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Rural Minds™ launches today with a mission to serve as the informed voice for mental health in rural America, and to provide mental health information and resources. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit will also convey the importance of overcoming the stigma around mental health challenges.

Rates for depression are higher in rural America than in urban areas, and suicide rates among people living in rural counties are 25 percent higher than those in major metropolitan areas. Addressing mental illness is a significant challenge in rural America due to unique barriers that include twenty percent fewer primary care providers than in cities, in addition to:

  • A lack of psychiatrists in 65 percent of rural counties;
  • A lack of psychiatric nurse practitioners in 81 percent of rural counties; and
  • A lack of access to broadband internet at home (four times more likely than it is for urban residents).

“Rural Minds is being launched to help rural Americans obtain greater access to mental health information and resources, while providing opportunities to help those affected through shared stories of lived experiences with mental illness,” said Jeff Winton, Rural Minds founder and chairman. “We hope to put an end to the suffering, silence and stigma that surrounds mental illness in rural communities where the need is so great.”

Growing up on his family’s multi-generational dairy farm in upstate New York, Winton was aware of local residents struggling with mental illness in silence, but it did not hit home until his 28-year-old nephew, Brooks, died by suicide nearly a decade ago. This shattering news became an eye-opener to the prevalence of mental illness in rural communities, and a call-to-action.

“While my mother, Elaine, was urged by some members of our small farming community to keep silent about the cause of Brooks’ death, she insisted our family talk about what happened,” said Winton. “For this reason, I delivered a very honest eulogy at his funeral that prompted some of those in attendance to open up about their struggles with depression and mental illness in their own families.”

Talking with his friends and neighbors about their mental health and suicide experiences cemented the need for an organization focused on the unique challenges faced by rural families. “The organization we are launching now, Rural Minds, is a tribute to my nephew, my mother, and to all the people who have or are currently struggling with mental illness in rural areas across the country,” Winton added.

“I am pleased that this new organization is working to bring together individuals, grassroots organizations, nonprofits in the mental health space, and corporations who have a stake in the wellness of rural America,” said Jeff Ditzenberger, founder of TUGS (Talking, Understanding, Growing, Supporting), a support group and Facebook page to help others by sharing mental illness lived experience. “Knowing that an organization like Rural Minds now exists to help people in rural America receive the mental health services that are so desperately need is hopeful news for everyone impacted.”

Jason Medows, founder of Ag State of Mind, said the effort to shine a light on underserved Americans who are feeding the nation is important to the health of the entire nation.

“It is gratifying to know that this team has pulled together the concept, vision and mission for Rural Minds,” Medows said. “The silent suffering and stigma must end. This is exactly what the farm families and rural residents need, now more than ever.”