Characterization of rural mental health service systems

J Rural Health. 1999 Summer;15(3):296-307. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-0361.1999.tb00751.x.


This paper explores two mental health systems in rural North Carolina that provide services to people with severe mental disorders. Recent findings show rural people with mental disorders receive less mental health care than their urban counterparts. This study asks whether rural service systems differ from urban systems in the way that their services are coordinated and structured. A popular conception is that public mental health systems in the United States are uncoordinated with many services provided outside the mental health sector. Rural service providers are seen as even more dependent on nonspecialized mental health providers than their urban counterparts. While many rural service barriers are attributed to the rural environment, little is known about rural service systems and how their organization might contribute to or negate barriers to care. Social network methods were used in this study to compare two rural with four urban systems of care. Findings confirm that mental health systems fit the de facto hypothesis, but that rural systems differ in ways not anticipated by the hypothesis. Rather than being more dependent on nonmental health agencies, rural mental health agencies are more interdependent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • North Carolina
  • Rural Health Services / organization & administration*