Rural veterans less likely than urban counterparts to receive mental health care, says study

Rural veterans are less likely than their urban counterparts to receive treatment for mental health conditions, says a study by the federal Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, published in The Journal of Rural Health. About 5.3 million veterans—24 percent of all veterans—live in rural areas, according to Office of Rural Health of the Veterans Health Administration.

The survey, which used data from SAMSHA’s 2012-2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that veterans in rural areas were 36 percent less likely than urban veterans to receive any mental health treatment, 33 percent less likely to receive outpatient treatment and 44 percent less likely to be prescribed medications. (Table: Percent of respondents answering yes to each question)

Researchers analyzed the past 12 months for five factors: If patients stayed overnight in a hospital; received outpatient mental health treatment; received psychotropic medication; received any mental health treatment; and whether in the past 12 months they perceived an unmet need for mental health treatment/counseling that was not received. For the last variable respondents were asked, “During the past 12 months, was there any time when you needed mental health treatment or counseling for yourself but didn’t get it?”

Overall, 29 percent of rural respondents said they received any mental health treatment in the past 12 months, compared to 45 percent of urban ones. At the same time, 25 percent of rural respondents said they were prescribed medication, compared to 45 percent of urban veterans and 20 percent of rural veterans received outpatient treatment, compared to 33 percent of rural veterans.

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