Rural America Lacks Mental Health Services (VIDEO)


In Colorado, mental health care facilities are concentrated in large cities and more difficult to find for the approximately 720,000 people living in rural areas.

Lori Gill remembers the moment in 1997 when she said she wanted to die.

“I felt that in any direction I looked, people’s lives would be better off without me,” said Gill. “I had a rope, and my daughter is going up the aisle. And it was enough for me to do some sort of ‘deer in the headlights’ thing and say ‘Oh my god.'”

Until then, Gill had been afraid to ask for help. His hometown of Merino, Colorado – two hours northeast of Denver – is a small farming hamlet of less than 300 people. She was a high school history teacher.

She said, “You know, I was like, ‘Damn, if someone thinks I’m in trouble, is they even going to want me to work with their kids?'”

When it comes to mental and behavioral health, parts of Colorado share the same issues as many places in rural America: not enough services to begin with, and when there are, there is resistance to using them. .

“As an adult, I was embarrassed to go somewhere in town because who knows, everyone is a bit interconnected,” said Gill.

In Colorado, mental health care facilities are mostly concentrated in large cities and more difficult to find for the approximately 720,000 people living in rural areas, where the needs are just as great.

Twenty-two counties in Colorado do not have a single licensed psychologist.

Alcohol and drug abuse is higher in rural areas. Children and young adults in rural towns are twice as likely to kill themselves.

Last November, Gill’s sister-in-law, Lori Schott, lost her 18-year-old daughter Anna. As Anna struggled with mental health, her family struggled to get her help.

“It was like a wait list after a wait list,” Schott said. “And finally, we made the decision to go further into the geographic area, which got us to Boulder. So, so that we could get help for Anna for mental health reasons in in due course, we had to travel two and – a half hour one way, two and a half hour return, plus her counseling time.That was a hard thing to swallow as rural America should not be forgotten . It’s a wonderful place to raise children, but the resources on the professional side are not where they need to be. “

The state of Colorado is trying to address this issue by hiring more addiction and behavioral health counselors for remote areas, including farming, Native American, and Latin communities. Public service announcements get people to get help.

Lori Gill’s son Gus was only one year old when his mother attempted suicide. Today, it strives to reach farmers and ranchers. He says taking care of the crops and the cows from sunrise to sunset brings a special blend of financial and mental stress.

Gill now works with the Colorado Farm Bureau. This year alone he started offering vouchers which can be redeemed for counseling sessions. It’s anonymous and free.

“There is this mindset that you have to be strong enough to handle and overcome your own issues with,” said Gill. “In fact, one of the strongest things people can do is take this step to ask for help if they need it.”

And in a state where half of all suicides involve a gun, the search for solutions now leads to gun stores.

Nathan Osbrach owns a small boutique in Brush Colorado.

“I can’t guarantee that if someone was suicidal I would understand it, but I think there’s a good chance I will,” he said.

Osbrach has agreed to be included on a map of places anyone can voluntarily surrender a firearm, potentially keeping it away from someone who may be suicidal. So far he says no one has taken him back.

“If anyone is having a mental health crisis, I’m more than happy to pick up the guns for as long as needed,” Osbrach said.

In Rocky Ford, Colorado – about an hour east of Pueblo – Doug Miller runs a medical clinic in a community where he says the need for behavioral health services is growing.

“We screened everyone for depression and anxiety,” Miller said. “We also screen for loneliness.”

Thanks to a federal grant, Miller recently hired a professional counselor. But the face-to-face connection is always difficult, so most of the time, video chat is how Andrea L’Heureaux “sees” patients.

During the pandemic, Colorado lawmakers made telehealth visits much easier.

“I think this is a game changer for a lot of our patients who can’t otherwise get out,” L’Heureaux said.

Lori Gill says opening up is what helped her get treatment for depression and bipolar disorder.

“People can hide it so well, and you can miss it,” she said.

These days, Gill and her sister-in-law are channeling their sadness to repair the Old Carnegie Library building in the town of Sterling. Upstairs, they will have a country store – downstairs, a cafe. A place that helps them turn a page on grieving and write a whole new chapter.

“Mentally for us, we had to find a loophole,” said Gill. “And I always say this building found us when we needed it most. I was looking for something that could be full of happiness and a place to go and it’s just a happy place.”

If you need to speak to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or send “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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