Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas in Rural Appalachia


  • For further information, contact: Michael Hendryx, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Community Medicine, West Virginia University, One Medical Center Drive, PO Box 9190, Morgantown, WV 26506; e-mail


ABSTRACT: Context: Research on health disparities in Appalachia has rarely compared Appalachia to other geographic areas in such a way as to isolate possible Appalachian effects. Purpose: This study tests hypotheses that nonmetropolitan Appalachia will have higher levels of mental health professional shortage areas than other nonmetropolitan areas of the same states, but that these disparities will dissipate when accounting for social and economic differences. Methods: The study analyzed secondary data for nonmetropolitan counties (N = 618) in the 13 Appalachian states. Appalachian counties were identified from the Appalachian Regional Commission designations. Mental health professional shortages were identified from Health Resources and Services Administration data. Area Resource File data were used to measure county-level income, education, uninsurance, unemployment, race/ethnicity percentages, and urban influence codes. Logistic regression models tested whether Appalachia was significantly associated with shortage areas, and whether the Appalachian effect persisted after accounting for social and economic covariates. Findings: Seventy percent of Appalachian nonmetropolitan counties were mental health professional shortage areas, significantly higher than non-Appalachian, nonmetropolitan counties in the same states. The Appalachian effect did not persist after controlling for the full set of other variables; education and race/ethnicity emerged as significant predictors. Conclusions: Appalachia location is associated with mental health professional shortages, but this effect is driven by underlying social differences, in particular by lower education. This method of identifying Appalachia for comparative purposes may be applied to many other health services research questions and to other defined geographic regions.