American Journal of Community Psychology

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 449-470

First online:

Psychological Distress and Help Seeking in Rural America

  • Danny R. HoytAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Iowa State University
  • , Rand D. CongerAffiliated withIowa State University
  • , Jill Gaffney ValdeAffiliated withIowa State University
  • , Karen WeihsAffiliated withGeorge Washington University

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The implications of exposure to acute and chronic stressors, and seeking mental health care, for increased psychological distress are examined. Research on economic stress, psychological distress, and rural agrarian values each point to increasing variability within rural areas. Using data from a panel study of 1,487 adults, a model predicting changes in depressive symptoms was specified and tested. Results show effects by size of place for men but not for women. Men living in rural villages of under 2,500 or in small towns of 2,500 to 9,999 people had significantly greater increases in depressive symptoms than men living in the country or in larger towns or cities. Size of place was also related to level of stigma toward mental health care. Persons living in the most rural environments were more likely to hold stigmatized attitudes toward mental health care and these views were strongly predictive of willingness to seek care. The combination of increased risk and less willingness to seek assistance places men living in small towns and villages in particular jeopardy for continuing problems involving depressed mood.

psychological distress seeking mental health care