Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Country life may not mean a happier life, study suggests; mental health is no different, but access to treatment is

Photo via the University of Houston
With its fresh outdoors, flora, fauna and open spaces, country life suggests a healthier life. But that is not always the case. "A study from the University of Houston found that those living in the country were not more satisfied with their lives than people who lived in urban areas," reports Cara Murez of HealthDay. "Rural U.S. residents didn't feel like their lives were more meaningful, and they also tended to be more anxious, depressed and neurotic. . . . Almost 85% of all rural counties have a mental health professional shortage, even though rural residents appear to need more psychological services, according to the study. Among the reasons for the shortage of mental health professionals is the surge in rural hospital closures since 2010."

The study report noted that mental illness is not more common in rural areas, but the difference is lack of access to treatment. Researcher Olivia Atherton, a professor at UH, told Murez, "It will be critical to improve access to psychological services in remote areas, and to identify how characteristics and values of rural communities can be leveraged to promote positive psychological health."

Researcher Olivia Atherton
(University of Houston photo)
Murez explains, "Atherton and her colleagues analyzed data from two large longitudinal studies of Americans, the Midlife in the United States and the Health and Retirement Study. . . .They looked at whether there were different levels and changes in extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. They also examined whether there were differences or changes in psychological well-being and life satisfaction across adulthood."

"The study fills important gaps in the literature by showing that where people live can impact personality and well-being in adulthood," writes UH's Laurie Fickman. Atherton told her, "Given the far-reaching consequences of rural health disparities for individuals, families and communities, there is a pressing need to identify the psychological, social and structural mechanisms responsible for disparities and the ways in which to intervene upon those mechanisms to improve the health of rural Americans."

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