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Addressing the Challenges of Behavioral Health Care in Rural Wyoming

A new report highlights some of the challenges to accessing behavioral health care for one in seven Americans living in rural areas.

Kendall Strong, senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said integrating behavioral health into primary care can help improve health outcomes and get patients mental health and substance use treatment covered. they need. She has noticed just how physical health problems, if the behavioral problems that arise are not addressed, can escalate into something much more serious.

“If you have problems with substance use, or depression, anxiety and you let it get worse, we know it gets worse,” Strong pointed out. “When that happens, you often need more acute care later. More acute care, as we know, is often more expensive.”

One of the report’s recommendations is to enhance training and other resources for Wyoming’s 25 federally qualified health centers that have pioneered a team-based approach to care. When patients have their annual medical checkup, they may also meet mental health, dental, and even vision care professionals during the same visit.

The lack of mental health professionals is one of the biggest barriers to accessing care in rural America. The report recommended strengthening workforce development programs, including the Health Center’s Graduate Medical Education Program for Teaching.

Heavily emphasized providers are more likely to work where they get their training, and most medical schools and residences are located in cities and suburbs.

“If you don’t practice in a rural area, if you’re not from a rural area, if you don’t already live in a rural area, you’re less likely to train and stay there,” Strong explained. “We think enabling the expansion, continuation and development of the program will allow more providers to train in rural areas.”

The strong added stigma continues to be a barrier to accessing mental health care. Many patients in small towns feel uncomfortable if their car is parked outside a psychologist’s office. Strong emphasized that continuing pandemic-era flexibility for telehealth services, especially in rural areas, is important.

“Many of these flexibilities will expire at the end of 2024,” Strong noted. “But in rural areas, we’ve seen that using audio-only is really important for people who can’t afford or don’t have access to broadband.”

Disclosure: The Bipartisan Policy Center contributes to our alcohol and drug abuse prevention reporting fund, health issues, hunger/food/nutrition, and mental health. If you want to help support news of public interest, click here.

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