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NARMH conference calls attention to behavioral healthcare availability in rural areas

August 27, 2018
by Ron Manderscheid, PhD, Exec Dir, NACBHDD and NARMH
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New Orleans never disappoints and neither does the National Association for Rural Mental Health annual summer conference. When the two came together this past weekend, the effect was electric.

NARMH held its 44th annual conference in New Orleans this past weekend. The theme, “Rural Resilience,” reflects a growing national concern about the uncertain future of our rural and farm communities, and the need to improve availability of behavioral health services to those who call these areas home.

The conference keynotes punctuated several very important issues now confronting rural America: the new farm crisis, growing veteran populations, impoverished communities and a lack of insurance parity. By contrast, the conference work sessions showed how resilience is expressing itself in new services and approaches for our rural communities.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell opened the conference by asserting that a new national awareness is developing regarding the essential nature of good mental and addictive health. She challenged all participants to be aware, to reach out, and to take action on improving behavioral health services in our rural and urban communities.

In the opening keynote, Charlie Griffin, MS, recently retired research assistant professor at the Kansas State University College of Human Ecology, described the nature of the emerging farm crisis and its similarities with previous crises in the 1960s and 1980s. He noted that it not only is an economic issue, but also predominantly a personal and family crisis for farmers living through it. Depression, suicide, and family breakup are pressing effects of this crisis.

Harold Kudler, MD, recent retiree from the Department of Veterans Affairs, recounted the history of the VA and its relevance to our current rural situation. Today, most veterans are from rural areas, and most return to these areas. Many suffer from the effects of war—PTSD, TBI, depression and anxiety. And many have difficulty becoming reintegrated into their communities. The VA and community providers must provide needed help.

Perry Blankenship, Project Aware Coordinator for McDowell County School System, described the plight of McDowell County, West Virginia, and its rapid economic and social decline in the post-coal era. However, he also showed how hope and resilience can be mobilized by local coalitions to address problems in McDowell county and other similar areas.

The final keynote was presented by Torie Keeton of the Kennedy Forum. She highlighted the importance of health insurance parity for our mental health and substance use care benefits. If we are to achieve many of the critical care goals discussed throughout the Conference, good parity enforcement will be required.

This year’s NARMH awardees are:

  • Victor I. Howery Memorial Award — Lori Irvine, NARMH Secretary
  • MDGoing to Bat Award — Harold Kudler
  • Peter G. Beeson Rural Arts Award — New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic and Assistance Foundation
  • Ann Schumacher Rural Clinical Practice Award — Perry Blankenship
  • Next year’s conference will be held Aug. 26-29 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A tip of the hat to NARMH and the entire planning committee for a wonderful conference on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. Very special thanks to Tammy Barnes, NARMH treasurer, for spearheading this effort.

Next year’s conference will be held Aug. 26-29 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Ron Manderscheid

Exec. Dir., NACBHDD and NARMH

Ron Manderscheid


Ron Manderscheid, Ph.D., serves as the Executive Director of the National Association of County...

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