Why Are Suicide Rates Higher in Rural Towns?

Access to mental healthcare is only part of the problem.

By Anna Casey & Alexandra HartJune 2, 2016 2:37 pm

Out of every 100,000 people in the U.S., 13 die by suicide – the highest rate in 30 years. These may just sound like numbers, but let’s put this in terms of your neighbors, or maybe someone closer. If you live in Denton County for instance, statistics suggest at least one person this week will die by his or her own hand. Farther out from cities, in small towns and communities that are so much a part of the Texas landscape, the suicide rate is worse.

Leon Evans, CEO for Center for Healthcare Services in Bexar County, says that no matter where you live, several factors lead to higher rates of mental health issues and suicides. One is access to care, another is stigma surrounding mental health.

“We see a lot of things in the media about mental illness, and all of them seem to be bad,” Evans says. “Young people don’t want to put themselves in the same box as the person who shot the congresswoman, so they resist admitting that they’re having problems or getting help.”

Those problems are even more prevalent in rural settings, where there are even fewer options for mental healthcare, as well as a different culture and mindset that makes it more difficult for people to admit they’re having problems.

“Rural people tend to want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, not want to admit that they have a problem,” he says.

Evans says that young people have fewer programs to keep them busy and engaged in a positive way, which may lead to mental health issues and suicides. Also, people in rural communities are more likely to have access to more lethal suicide methods, like firearms.

While every county in the state has a mental health authority, many are underfunded. Texas ranks 49th in the nation for spending per person for mental health resources.

“Getting the message out to youth about where they can get help and access help, and make it to where it’s not stigmatized in any way is a challenge,” Evans says.

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.