Opinion | In the rural West, ‘self-reliance’ can take a heavy toll on mental health

Placeholder while article actions load

Maddy Butcher is the author of “Beasts of Being: Partnerships Unburdened” and director of the Best Horse Practices Summit.

MONTEZUMA COUNTY, Colo. — In “The Homesman,” a 2014 movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank, three traumatized pioneer women are transported back East to get help from a women’s relief society. There is no solace in open spaces, we learn. Only devastating isolation and social censure.

While many are working today to change the status quo, echoes of frontier mental health tragedies, like those depicted in the movie, resound in the rural West, where an appointment with a doctor of any kind might entail a two-hour drive one way. That’s if you can find a provider, if you have transportation and, as is often the case with mental health, if you can overcome the stigma surrounding your care.

Rural suicide rates increased 48 percent

Read More

Therapists Flee Kaiser as Mental Health Patients Languish

When Susan Whitney was a therapist at Kaiser Permanente, her colleagues missed working in prison.

Whitney’s co-workers first practiced mental health care in the region’s penitentiaries before joining the state’s largest health care provider. Working conditions for therapists at Kaiser were so deplorable, Whitney says, that her colleagues wanted to go back.

“They can provide better care,” says Whitney, who retired from Kaiser in late 2021. “It’s a better work environment.”

Mental health practitioners at Kaiser are so overburdened with patients that waiting periods between appointments can be six weeks or more, according to therapists who spoke with Capital & Main. (Industry standards mean therapists outside Kaiser generally see patients on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, though cases vary.)

Now California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) has launched a “non-routine survey” to determine whether Kaiser is offering adequate behavioral health care.

When asked about its access issues, Kaiser points

Read More