Monica Morin was a normal high school student. After her family relocated from suburban New Hampshire to a very small, rural town in southeastern Wyoming, Monica’s mood drastically changed. No longer was she the happy-go-lucky teen her mother described her as in New Hampshire. She had lost her passion for life, turning to alcohol and marijuana. Her family did everything they could to help save their suffering child, including driving over two hours to Casper, Wyoming, where the closest inpatient treatment center was located. Despite her family’s dedication to finding treatment for their daughter, Monica committed suicide Feb. 4, 2015.
Monica’s heartbreaking story is only one of many in small, rural towns. According to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, “rural adolescents commit suicide at roughly twice the rate of their urban peers.” Many may wonder why states such as Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Montana and Alaska have the highest suicide rates in the country. These beautiful, spacious states are full of many small towns, each isolated from their neighbor. No one is a stranger in these communities, and there is often very little privacy. Health-related problems can be public knowledge.
While there is a stigma surrounding mental health not only in small towns, but all across the world — even in large metropolitan areas — the stigma is heightened in smaller towns. Imagine living in a town where everything is in walking distance from your house: your school, the grocery store, your doctor. If someone needs treatment for a mental health illness, chances are many people will see them enter this facility, or at least spot their car in the parking lot. With a lack of privacy and an intense stigma surrounding mental health, many small town dwellers choose to ignore their life-threatening illnesses.
In addition to these issues, a Nov. 3 article in The New York Times describes a “mind-set, born long ago of necessity, dictating that people solve their own problems” in these rural areas, which would stop people from seeking professional help with mental problems. While this was not the case for Monica Morin, as her family did everything they could to help her, including regular visits to counseling sessions, this is the case for many others. This mindset is furthered by the fact that many small towns lack any real facilities or treatment programs for mental health. In fact, “55 percent of counties in the United States — all of them rural — do not have a single psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker.” This is obviously a huge issue for even those that do want to seek help, but are unable to.
The disastrous combination of lack of privacy, a mental health stigma and lack of mental health treatment available in small towns explains why small town suicide rates are much higher than those in urban settings, and why they continue to rise.
Unfortunately, progress has been slow on fixing this issue. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health, there is less of a drive to improve mental health treatment availability. Many people believe mental health is not a real issue because they often cannot see the effects it causes, as they can when one is physically ill.
However, with so many rising suicide rates, especially among teenagers, mental health demands to be taken seriously. If nothing is done about it, suicide rates will only continue to rise. Hopefully these rising suicide rates will spark a drive among people to take mental health issues seriously, helping to provide the necessary support for those who desperately need it.