Commentary #77: “There’s a severe shortage of mental health professionals in rural areas. Here’s why that’s a serious problem.”

Mental Health - Quotefancy

Image Credit: Quotefancy

I recently read another CNN article that I felt was worthy of sharing. It was published on June 20, 2018.

Here’s the link to the article:


For years, I’ve been fascinated with the Appalachian region of the United States. Part of it is because my grandmother (Mom’s mom) was raised in West Virginia, and other extended family members have lived in West Virginia and Kentucky, to name a few states.

The mountains are beautiful. Grandma Grace was raised during The Great Depression, and they survived. I have vague memories of visiting Great-Grandma Laura Bethany (whom I’m named after) on her farm in Ripley, and seeing Mom’s aunt’s and cousins in Beckley. These two areas aren’t deep in the mountains, but you can definitely see and feel the hills and valleys.

With all that said, Ripley and Beckley are small, but mighty. Other areas of West Virginia, and other states in the Appalachian region, have certainly struggled with the volatility of the coal mining industry, among other issues. The limited amount of research I’ve done shows years of struggles with poverty, unemployment, access to health care, and more. However, the Appalachian people are steadfast. I don’t want to be prejudicial, but research-based.

Along with difficulties accessing quality health care, and affording that care, mental health care is somewhat tied to that. It’s fascinating, as well as immensely frightening.

When I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in the summer of 2015, I started taking a bigger interest in mental health, including news articles about the topic. I’m grateful that I have a stable job, with good health insurance, and access to good mental health resources and services.

I’ve seen several counselors since I was in college, for a variety of reasons, but the counselor who diagnosed me with GAD was a watershed moment for me. She helped me unpack a variety of issues that were causing significant stress, and in turn, contributing to my anxiety. I’ve been able to better understand GAD, and to work to figure out the best ways to limit and control my anxiety. It’s a daily exercise, but I’m proud to say that I’m not taking any medication, and I’m able to live a fairly productive life thanks to a powerful and helpful support system. I realize that my situation is very unique, and I’m grateful for everything!


The article is packed with statistics. I won’t go through all of them, but the main point is a majority of non-metropolitan counties do not have a psychiatrist, and nearly half do not have a psychologist. The best definition of a non-metropolitan county that I could find is one that does not have a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and has a population of 10,000 or less (Health Resources & Services Administration).

One of the interviewees, a clinical psychologist, pointed out that many rural areas only have generalists, i.e., primary care providers (PCPs), and there’s little to no specialized care. People are left on their own due to a lack of community mental health care, and nearby relevant hospital services.

The services that are available are focused on crisis intervention, not prevention. These services attempt to address the crisis as it’s happening, but nothing is available to prevent the crisis.

In addition to the lack of services and resources, health care funding cuts are exacerbating this problem. Roughly 80 rural hospitals closed between 2010 and 2017. Hundreds more are at risk.

Another problem the rural population faces is isolation. Isolation can spark downward spirals, which can lead to drug addiction, overdoses, depression, and suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), rural areas have a higher suicide rate than non-rural areas, which has been widening since 2001.

This is a significantly complex and challenging problem that can’t be addressed with a single solution. However, there’s one bright spot that is starting to emerge – Telebehavioral health. The article provided the example of a patient in Wyoming “seeing” a psychologist in Pennsylvania via virtual sessions and online portals.

As promising as telebehavioral health appears, the article points out a host of other issues that rural residents face. Access to the Internet is one, being proficient with computers / technology another, and having the financial resources to access these mental health professionals.

To me, there needs to be a series of steps to tackle these issues. I don’t have all the answers, and I try to be as objective as possible.

There needs to be consistent investment in mental health services across the U.S. Every rural area that does not have a psychiatrist or psychologist should probably have at least one of each. The currently practicing doctors should be linked up to the existing mental health services, as well as be / become advocates for improving those services. Continued work to reduce the stigma of mental illness, addiction, and other mental health issues will also be beneficial.

Those support systems that people turn to in the event of a crisis – Family, friends, ministers, chaplains, and even first responders – should also have connections to mental health services. More mental health training for these support systems, specialized if possible, is also a good idea.

Throughout the network of ideas and potential solutions, the idea of making and sustaining connections and cooperation appears to be a common theme. In order to help the neediest residents, everyone involved with helping them should be educated, connected, and cooperative.

Example: Someone in a rural area is struggling with isolation and drug addiction, and overdoses. When the family member calls for an ambulance, the first responders take the resident to the local or nearest hospital. While recovering in the hospital, a series of people work behind the scenes to quickly identify others that can help – Family members, the hospital chaplain, the resident’s pastor, the resident’s primary care physician, and anyone else. Together, this network of resources work together to locate the nearest psychiatrist or psychologist, or even the nearest behavioral health center. The idea is to build a strong support system to get the resident the best mental health services possible.

This is strictly an example, but ideally, there needs to multiple levels of support and accountability for this to work. Every situation is different – Sometimes there’s no family, no primary care physician, difficulty accessing a behavioral health center, among other things. Regardless, if we invest in building these networks and support systems, maybe there can be a shift in crisis prevention, and less crisis intervention.


For more information, check out these resources. Several of these were also cited in the article.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #75: “The war on drugs failed. It’s time for a war on abuse.”

Honor Blackman

Image Credit: AZ Quotes

The headline grabbed me instantly. It spoke to me.

Here’s the link to the opinion that CNN published on their website on Friday, June 15, 2018:


Full disclosure: This was published under CNN’s Opinion section.

CNN also published this Editor’s Note at the top of the page: Natalie Schreyer is a reporter at the Fuller Project for International Reporting, a nonprofit news organization that covers issues impacting women and girls globally. She is working on “Abused in America,” a Fuller Project initiative to cover domestic violence in the United States. Jessica Klein is a journalist and co-author of the book “Abetting Batterers: What Police, Prosecutors, and Courts Aren’t Doing to Protect America’s Women.” The views expressed here are solely those of the authors.


I read this opinion. And then I re-read it. It stuck with me all weekend long. It’s still with me as I finish writing this post.

The comparisons that Schreyer and Klein make are staggering. After reading it several times, it makes complete sense to me.

Sure, I’m definitely biased here. I am a domestic violence survivor. I am an abuse survivor. Neither of these are ever okay. I’ve read several powerful memoirs and accounts of survivors (Tornado Warning), and stories of those who tragically lost their lives (If I Am Missing Or Dead: A Sister’s Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation) over the years. I don’t want to read new ones, if I’m being perfectly honest.

There must be harsher punishments for habitual offenders. The opening story for this opinion both broke my heart and made my blood boil – An alleged abuser has never been convicted of a crime, despite 160 encounters with police in 15 years. Quick math – That’s an average of 11 encounters per year. That’s too many.

One encounter is too many.

It took way too long for the current stalking laws to be enacted, and even now, those laws aren’t necessarily the same in every one of the 50 states (although it absolutely should be). The problem here is there’s a lack of consistency. The power is usually left up to the states, and that’s where many problems lie. Where you live is a huge factor, and it absolutely shouldn’t be that way!

But, what about all these non-violent offenders, in prison for decades on drug charges?

I could write a proverbial book. What the Nixon administration started in 1971 was a so-called “war” that will never be won. Presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush kept fueling the fire. I myself was in the D.A.R.E. program in fifth grade. I vowed to never smoke cigarettes after watching my grandmother, my dad’s mom. She lived with emphysema for more than 20 years. She also had COPD, and was on oxygen since I was a child.

Now, in 2018, our country has been facing the “opioid crisis” for several years. Like the authors argue, “addicts who need medical treatment more than criminal punishment,” is so true. And, sadly, not likely to happen. There is a lack of investment in mental health treatment and addiction treatment. Addicts need resources such as medical intervention, quality treatment facilities, quality therapy and/or counseling, and continued support for as long as necessary to keep them sober, stable, and functional.

Why? We have more people in prison for drug possession than mental health treatment facilities. These men and women (not all, mind you), unfortunately, re-offend and get sent back to prison because they can’t get a good, steady job after being released. Struggling to support themselves and their families, they turn to what they’ve known as their source of income. And they’re stuck in this vicious cycle that doesn’t seem to end.

When I think of an “addict,” I think of someone involved with drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, or crack. The harder, more dangerous drugs.

To think of how many people (many are people of color, too) are in jail or prison for non-violent marijuana offenses makes me incredibly angry. I’ve been supportive of the interest to legalize / de-criminalize marijuana. But, that’s another story altogether.

There needs to be far more accountability on the domestic violence and abuser side, however. The authors pointed to a fascinating report from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which focused on High Point, North Carolina. When the focus was shifted toward cracking down on intimate partner violence, the number of intimate partner murders dropped from 17 (between 2004-2011) to just one (between 2012-2014).

Numbers are powerful. Seventeen murders dropped to one? Wow.

As I mentioned earlier, the current stalking laws took way too long to pass. Now, there really should be domestic violence courts in every state. The script should be flipped – Turn the thousands of drug courts (3,100 quoted in the opinion) into domestic violence courts. Problem solved? Maybe.

I’m not saying to get rid of drug courts altogether. What I’m saying is to shift the balance. Shift the balance of the number of courts, and maybe that will also shift the balance of power.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. I just feel strongly about the issues presented in this opinion. I hope more is done for all victims of domestic violence and abuse. No one deserves to go through the horror, shame, and terror. And this includes women, men, and children. There’s a lot of focus on women, but men and children are abused and violated every single day.


For more information, check out these resources. Many of these were also cited in the opinion.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #62: “10-Year-Old Reporter, Once Told to Go ‘Play with Dolls,’ Publishing Six-Book Series with Major Publisher”

NY Daily News

Star journalist Hilde Lysiak. Image Credit: NY Daily News

Hilde Lysiak, at age 10, has already accomplished so many things! She’s an accomplished journalist, a newspaper founder, and now a published author!

I heard about Hilde last year, but A Mighty Girl profiled her this past week, lauding her for becoming a published author!

Way to go, Hilde!


Hilde started her own newspaper, Orange Street News, in December 2014, in her town of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. Her dad, Matthew Lysiak, is a well-known and recognized journalist. He has reported for the New York Daily News, among others. Apparently, journalism runs in the family – Big sister, Izzy, runs a kids’ advice column in the local paper, The Daily Item.

Her dad made her a deal – He agreed to do the typing, formatting, and printing. But, the reporting, writing, and photography – That was all on her. She ran with it, and hasn’t stopped!

On April 2, 2016, she broke the story of a suspected murder in Selinsgrove, and posting the story on the Orange Street News Facebook page caused a wave of criticism. Several people were critical. Only nine at the time, people remarked that she should be playing with dolls, not reporting on murders.

She responded brilliantly in a video message: “But if you want me to stop covering news, then you get off your computer and do something about the news.”

That is awesome!!

Her response was picked up by The Washington Post and The Guardian. Since then, she’s continued reporting, and given several interviews with other media outlets, including for The Today Show, and the Columbia Journalism Review.

She doesn’t want to work for a newspaper someday – She wants own her own newspaper.


Here’s a few of the stories that have been written about Hilde and her pursuits. Enjoy!

The New York Daily News first covered Hilde and her story on September 12, 2015: Kid presses on: Girl, 8, with own newspaper dreams of being bigger than The News

On June 30, 2016, a press release from Scholastic Media announced Hilde’s book deal: Scholastic Acquires Four Books by Nine-Year-Old Reporter Hilde Lysiak

The New York Daily News covered Hilde again on August 29, 2016: Ace kid reporter Hilde Lysiak, 9, to get her story told on the small screen

Check out this profile from The New York Times, recently published on October 31, 2017: Hilde Lysiak, Reporter, Author, 10-Year-Old


Her newest endeavor is a series of children’s books, published by Scholastic. The first two have already been released, and two more are scheduled to be released in December and January.


What do you think? Do you feel inspired by Hilde, like I do?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #50: “Students Turn the Tables on a Journalist”

It-is-not-enough-for-journalists-to-see-themselves-as-mere-messengers-without-understanding-the-hidden-agendas-of-the-message-...-John-Pilger

Image Credit: Ask Ideas

I read several advice columns, on almost a daily basis:

I don’t always agree, but several letters have made me think about certain things in my own life, such as dealing with certain friendships, how to consider money matters, and how to help the environment in different ways.


Last Monday, I stumbled upon an intriguing headline:

I don’t normally read “Parents Talk Back,” but I felt like I needed to read this one.

And, I was right.

Scenario: The columnist is approached by her daughter. Daughter asks mother to come talk to her middle school classes before starting a unit on investigative journalism.

Mother agrees, and creates a lesson plan with the teacher. Her ideas: Discuss the First Amendment, explore how the free press works, the different types of news sources, and examples of investigations.

She taught this lesson six times, to groups of 40 students. That’s 240 students! Armed with candy, she encouraged the students to answer and ask questions.

She later received over 100 notes from the students, thanking her for the enlightening discussion.

Here’s some of the responses:

  • “I learned a lot of new things about how to gather information on public files.”
  • “I’m taking journalism in high school, and I wasn’t that excited about it, but now i am! Can’t wait for that class.”
  • “Who knows — you may have possibly inspired a future journalist.”
  • “It gave me new insight on the steps reporters take to write a story and how they’re viewed by the public. My favorite part was when you explained the impact of journalism on real world issues.”
  • “My favorite thing you said was that reporters helped bring bad things to light.”
  • “My favorite thing you said was that investigative journalists don’t do it for the money, they do it for the truth.”
  • “My favorite thing you said was you’ve been a journalist for 20 years, and that’s a record to me, because most people quit because people say mean things.”

I found myself re-reading this column a few times over the last week. It’s awesome that one woman made such an impact on 240 students, in one day!

Reading this column has inspired me to look into opportunities of sharing my varied knowledge on topics such as reading, writing, journalism, mass media, blogging, donating blood/blood drives, and maybe even the world of healthcare.

I’m not sure where this will lead me, but I’m excited!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂