New technology may smooth the access to mental health care in rural areas.

Such technology comes in the form of telemedicine and telepsychiatry. Patients would be able to access psychiatrists and psychologists, whose offices are miles away, via satellite. The service would benefit those living in areas that don't have access to mental health care facilities, said Dr. Ole Thienhaus, professor and chair of the UA's Department of Psychiatry.

"Basically, it's a one-on-one encounter with a patient, (similar to what) you would have in (an) office, except it is through a television (screen)," Thienhaus said.

A nurse would likely travel to the patient to help with technological and other types of problems patients may encounter. Also, the presence of a nurse would be vital if a prescription is needed, Thienhaus said.

Lynda Bergsma, director of the Arizona State Office of Rural Health program, said the main problem is limited access to mental health care in rural areas of the state. There are, practically, no psychiatrists or psychologists in these remote areas, and even the presence of licensed social workers is rare, Bergsma explained.

"People (in rural areas) are getting medication," Bergsma said. "But, they're not getting any behavioral or mental health counseling."

She said another issue limiting people to mental care is the cost. Also, Thienhaus said people with mental illness carry the burden of disability, leaving them unable to work. They, oftentimes, get stuck in a vicious cycle, where they're unemployed because of their illness, and can't treat their illness because they don't have an income.

Bersgma said the stigma of living in a rural town and having a mental illness also plays a big role in not seeking care. There is the assumption that, in rural towns, everyone knows each other, "so no one wants to (go) to a (mental) health care facility," she said.

Ashley Grove is a journalism student and an intern for Arizona Public Media

This story is part of Arizona Public Media's week-long series on poverty.