New report shows unmet need for mental health professionals in rural Minnesota

The report was made in partnership with the Center for Rural Behavioral Health, Minnesota State University, Mankato.

There's a rural and urban divide when it comes to mental health professionals in Minnesota. - stock.adobe.

Minnesota is experiencing an unprecedented demand for mental health services, and rural Minnesota is being hit especially hard.

That's according to a recent report, " Identifying bottlenecks and roadblocks in the rural mental health career pipeline ," created in partnership with the Center for Rural Behavioral Health and Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Marnie Werner, vice president of the Center for Rural Policy & Development, said there is definitely a shortage of mental health professionals in rural Minnesota.

"We have a shortage of licensed mental health providers everywhere, but especially in rural Minnesota, where we have fewer providers and higher need," said Werner.

Over half of the licensed providers in Minnesota are over the age of 55, said Werner, and a quarter of them are over age 65.


Contributed / Center for Rural Policy and Development

"So that means we have quite a few who are set to be retiring soon," she said. "And of course, the issue is who's going to replace them."

Job vacancy rate — which measures the percentage of vacant positions over a specific period of time — is something that's discussed often at the Center for Rural Policy & Development, said Werner.

The job vacancy rate for mental health professionals in Minnesota went from 8% in 2019 to 26% in 2021, which means 26% of currently posted mental health and substance abuse counselor jobs are sitting vacant, said Werner.

"A lot of this has to do with burnout, especially in the pandemic and all those retirements that are going on," she said. "And so where are the counselors? According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 82% of them are in metropolitan areas."

Five percent of mental health counselors in Minnesota are in small towns, and 2% are in the isolated rural areas.

"In metropolitan areas, it's one licensed mental health professional for every 197 residents," said Werner. "As you get down to isolated rural, it's one professional for every 741 residents."

That leads to what the Center for Rural Policy & Development calls an "unmet need."

"There are services available, but there is not enough supply of providers to meet that increasing demand," said Werner.


Suicide rates are on the rise in all populations, but they are "higher and going up faster" in rural areas, said Werner.

"And so rural Minnesota needs more counselors," she said.

Mental Health One Pager by Michael Johnson on Scribd

Students in crisis

Cited in the recent report is the 2022 Minnesota Student Survey, which measures the health and well being of Minnesota’s fifth-, eighth-, ninth-, and 11th-grade students. The survey indicated that 29% of students reported long-term mental health problems, an 11% increase since 2016 and the highest level since the survey started in 1989.

"When broken down geographically, however, the eighth-, ninth-, and 11th-graders in Greater Minnesota averaged somewhat higher than those in the Twin Cities, 34% versus 28% respectively," reads the report.

"We learned this last year back in December that the mental well being of the young people in Minnesota has never been worse by any statistical measure," said Thad Shunkweiler, associate professor and director for the Center for Rural Behavioral Health, Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Shunkweiler said the survey data allows the ability to see what unmet need looks like county-by-county
"If we go to Jackson County, Minnesota, it's on the southern border of Minnesota, next to Iowa, you look at their Minnesota Student Survey data, and you will find that two thirds of the female identifying students in Jackson County report long term mental health problems," said Shunkweiler. "When you look at the number of providers in Jackson County, you're gonna get a big fat zero. There are no licensed providers in the county of Jackson using Minnesota Department of Health Workforce data."

For more findings and recommendations from the report, visit

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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