Center for Rural Behavioral Health is coming to MSU this fall

Minnesota State University, Mankato is establishing a Center for Rural Behavioral Health this fall. The center aims at promoting the emotional well-being of individuals residing in rural areas by providing services designed to address and resolve mental health issues.

Thad Shunkwiler, assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences, is the founding director of the behavioral health center. 

“MSU is leading the way not just in Minnesota but the entire country in looking at particular issues as they pertain to rural behavioral health. We are not duplicating the work of other organizations; we’re spearheading this at a time in which mental health has never been talked about more. ”

The prevalence of mental health issues in rural areas is similar to their prevalence in urban areas yet evident disparities in mental health services exist in rural areas owing to the scarcity of providers, services or centers that provide the necessary help to residents. The establishment of this center directly addresses those mental health disparities.

 The center’s main objective is to improve access to mental health services for residents in rural areas and adopt appropriate services to better cater to the mental health challenges faced by individuals living in rural settings.

“The needs of rural Minnesotans are just different than the needs of our metro counterparts. So, the focus of the center will be to cater to those specific needs and identify what the differences are between rural and metro residents and identify ways to solve those problems through research,” added Shunkwiler. 

Adding to the center’s goal of catering to the mental health needs of residents in rural areas, Shunkwiler also stressed the importance of diversity among mental health practitioners. To best serve the needs of all individuals in the population, it is important for providers to be aware of the unique experiences and perspectives that affect the patients they are overseeing. 

“Our center’s mission is to also grow a culturally representative workforce in Minnesota,” said Shunkwiler. “90% of providers in Minnesota are white and 90% of the consumers of mental health care are not white so we are lacking a representative workforce here and we don’t have people that can better connect with those lived experiences”.

The center will also open multiple opportunities for students here at MSU. Students interested in pursuing a career in mental health have the chance to work with faculty in research and training. 

“We need students. They are going to comprise half of the workforce here, so we are going to be looking for students that have an interest in mental health and in helping other people. We want them to get involved in the center,” said Shunkwiler.

The center is currently looking for partnerships with healthcare and agricultural industries to best achieve its mission. The grand opening,  for the campus and community, of the center is set to take place in the fall semester of 2022 near the end of August.

Write to Hafsa Peerzada at

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