Josie Rudolphi, associate research scientist at the National Farm Medicine Center-Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, was recently selected as a 2019 Rural Health Fellow by the National Rural Health Association. Through this role, Rudolphi will spend the year educating and advocating for the increased availability and accessibility of mental health care in rural areas.

She said the goal of the fellows program is to educate, develop and inspire a networked community of rural health leaders who will step forward to serve in key positions in the National Rural Health Association, affiliated rural health advocacy groups and local and state legislative bodies.

“The Rural Health Fellows meet in person three times throughout the year to undergo intensive leadership and advocacy training. In addition, fellows take part in monthly conference calls to supplement their training, receiving updates on legislative and regulatory concerns that may impact rural health,” Rudolphi said.

Rudolphi hopes to address through this opportunity the barriers that farmers often face in receiving adequate mental health care. She said the four major barriers to mental health care in rural areas are availability, accessibility, affordability and acceptability.

“Rural areas are medically underserved and mental health care services are often unavailable to them, either not offered, too expensive or inconvenient,” Rudolphi said. “Mental health disorders are still stigmatized in rural and agricultural areas, and unfortunately, so long as the stigma persists, many will be reluctant to use services that are available.”

Reducing that stigma is one of the major goals society should have, Rudolphi said.

“If we can increase acceptance of and understanding of mental health disorders and encourage those in need to get help, we could see major shifts in the mental health status of rural and agricultural populations,” she said.

Rudolphi said it is an honor to have been selected for this opportunity and she is looking forward to learning more about these issues in the upcoming year.

“I am motivated and enthusiastic to learn more about advocacy, communicate with legislators and brainstorm innovative solutions to improve access to mental health care,” she said. “I am especially looking forward to partnering with other fellows to advance our platforms and develop as a professional in rural health.”

With this excitement, however, Rudolphi said she also recognizes the responsibility that comes with the opportunity, adding that it is crucial to advocate for mental health care for these underserved rural and agricultural populations.

“I grew up in an agricultural community and know firsthand the barriers to mental health care. I want to give a voice to those who are suffering in silence, without the care and support they deserve,” she said.

Rudolphi’s first meeting was Feb. 4 in Washington, D.C., at the National Rural Health Association’s Rural Health Policy Institute.