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Mental health troubles rural Montana



By Adina Smith, Stasia Ow en, Kasey Anderson and Lisa Beczkiewicz, for the Big Sky Weekly

Rural communities often struggle
with issues surrounding poverty,
single parenting, education, unemployment,
lack/ of health insurance.
Residents of rural communities experience
mental health problems like depression,
suicide and substance abuse
at a rate that is sometimes greater than
urban communities, and stigmas surrounding
mental illness are common.
Community resources in small towns,
however, tend to be inaccessible or
Even when rural individuals have
access to mental health services, they
often cannot afford them. Without
the necessary help, they sometimes
end up in crisis situations that could
have been avoided. This places undue
stress on primary health care providers
and law enforcement, which at
times results in issues like suicide or

A fishbowl society

Rural communities sometimes refer to
living in a “fishbowl,” meaning others
can easily observe their coming and
going from the mental health clinic.
Stigma regarding mental illness is
particularly pronounced in these areas
and may be related to lack of education,
insufficient resources, isolation
and the value of autonomy.
Stigma dissuades people from seeking
help for mental health, and may also
impede progress once individuals are
engaged in the treatment process. This
perceived lack of anonymity and being
the subject of rumors may determine
whether or not they seek care.
A sense of individualism is often
strong in rural towns. This is a “pull
yourself up by your bootstraps”
mentality, where people are selfsufficient,
self-reliant, and solve their
own problems. Rural individuals are
often unaware of the state of their
mental health, existing mental health
services, or whether or not they’re
eligible to receive services, according
to a University of Maryland Department
of Family Science report in 2007.
Because of this, individuals who could
benefit from mental health treatment
may not seek assistance due to stigma,
stoicism, alternate views of etiology
and treatment, or not may not recognize
the problem.

Finding help in Big Sky

Many of these same barriers may exist
for individuals in need of mental
health care in Big Sky. In response,
Montana State University’s Human
Development Clinic, in partnership
with Women in Action, offers
counseling and mental health services
in Big Sky. This community resource
offers counseling services to adults,
adolescents, children, couples and
families living in Big Sky. Counseling
is provided on a low-cost sliding scale
fee and the initial appointment is free
of charge.
Additionally, Women in Action
expanded the counseling and mental
health services for all students at
Ophir and Lone Peak High School this
year. Through this school/community
partnership the guidance counselor is
now funded to work full time providing
services and resources to students
and families through implementation
of a Comprehensive Guidance
Program. This program addresses
intellectual, emotional, social and
psychological needs. It includes sequential
activities designed to address
the needs of all students by helping
them acquire competencies in career
planning and exploration, knowledge
of self and others, and educational
Anderson believes that by teaching all
students in the classroom setting, they
become enriched with the same skills
set, creating a common language in the
school. She also provides small group
counseling and individual sessions
with students and parents.
By having these services in Big Sky,
residents can now find care for a diversity
of mental health needs including
depression, anxiety, relationship concerns,
grief and loss, self-esteem, life
transition, academic or work concerns,
substance use or other issues of life’s
constant struggles.
To learn more about services through
the Human Development Clinic
or to schedule an appointment call
(406) 570-3907. To contact the Ophir
School and Lone Peak High counseling
program call (406) 995-4281 ext.221.
For more information about Big Sky’s
counseling programs or other community
health needs call Women in
Action (406) 209-7098.

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