Providing access to mental health services for children in rural areas
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Providing access to mental health services for children in rural areas

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    On average, 15% of young children, 2-8 years of age in the United States have a parent-reported mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder (MBDD) diagnosis, which includes attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety problems, behavioral or conduct problems such as oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder, Tourette syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, learning disability, intellectual disability, developmental delay, or speech or other language problems.1 The percentage of children with diagnosed MBDDs is similar for small rural3 and urban areas, at 18.6% and 15.2% respectively.2

    Across the country, people with mental health issues may struggle to get care due to a shortage of providers, and this problem is magnified in rural areas. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), 61% of areas with a mental health professional shortage are rural or partially rural. 3

    There is also a gap between the demand for services from child psychiatrists and psychologists and the supply of providers. Experts project that the number of child and adolescent psychiatrists will increase to 8,312 in 2020, but this falls short of the estimated 12,624 that are needed to meet demand.4 Traditionally, rural areas have fewer of these professionals than urban areas.5 This shortage combined with the unique socioeconomic and cultural factors associated with rural residence, including higher poverty rates and geographic isolation, make it more challenging for rural children to access behavioral health services.6,7 Transportation is also a barrier in accessing mental health care and is often cited “as one of the major concerns reported by rural residents in discussing limitations to their access to health care or their participation in health programs.”8

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