Finding Hope


COVID-19 makes for a rough mental health year--especially in rural communities

Posted at 1:35 PM, Dec 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-29 16:20:55-05

The holidays are usually a rough time for those struggling with mental health, but 2020 has been an especially tough year--maybe even more so for those in rural parts of the state.

Data shows between loss of jobs, life, and an increase in isolation because of the pandemic, more people than ever are struggling with mental health.

"Nearly eight in ten individuals polled said the pandemic is causing undue stress in their everyday life--and that stress is increasing," explained Jacob Wilson, a social worker in the St. Luke's Health System.

Idaho has one of the highest suicide rates in the entire country, and as Idaho News 6 has reported, many of those happen in the state's rural areas.

Dr. Clarissa Richardson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Idaho, has been studying mental health in Idaho's rural communities for years. Richardson hopes her research will lead toward solutions that will bring rural suicide rates down.

"The research shows you need to do community-based work. The community needs to be involved in the process," Richardson explained.

Richardson says there are multiple factors behind high suicide rates in rural areas. The stigma surrounding mental illness, ready access to firearms, a lack of mental health resources, and what Richardson calls a "rugged individualism" are all contributing factors.

"The idea that 'I can deal with this on my own, that I don't need to talk about this with anyone,'" Richardson explained. "We see these as risk factors in rural areas and so we think, 'Ok what can we do about that?'"

Mental health experts say a big part of the solution is working to end the stigma surrounding getting help.

"Mental health problems touch everyone. At any given point, one in 5 people are suffering from symptoms--that doesn't mean they're dysfunctional, that they can't work, it just means there's something going on they need help for," explained Dr. Jim Polo, Medical Director or Regence.

Polo adds tele-mental health options have been a game-changer for rural areas.

"What we're noticing at Regence is a huge amount of people reaching out for help. Luckily we've shifted so that a lot of our services are now provided through telehealth," Polo said.

If you, or someone you know, is in crisis, please don't hesitate to reach out for help.

Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline:

Phone: (208) 398-4357


Veteran's Crisis Line:

Phone: 1 (800) 273-8255 (PRESS 1), or you can text: 838255 to get help from professionals, 24/7.


Crisis Hotline:

Phone: 208-788-3596


Marimn Health:

Phone: 208-686-1931

St. Luke's Psychiatric Wellness Clinic:

Phone: 208-706-6375

211 Idaho Careline:

Phone: Dial 211 or 1-800-926-2588

Code 4 Northwest:

Phone: 425-243-5092

Crisis Intervention:

Phone: 208-334-0808

Addiction hotline:

Phone: (888) 659-7510


Idaho Department of Health and Welfare:


Phone lists:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention