It might seem like a move to rural living could bring calm and even happiness, but new research suggests that isn’t always so.

A study from the University of Houston found that those living in the country were not more satisfied with their lives than people who lived in urban areas. Rural U.S. residents didn’t feel like their lives were more meaningful, and they also tended to be more anxious, depressed and neurotic.

Among the reasons for this are a shortage of mental health professionals, and the researchers noted a surge in rural hospital closures since 2010.

Almost 85% of all rural counties have a mental health professional shortage, even though rural residents appear to need more psychological services, according to the study.

“It will be critical to improve access to psychological services in remote areas, and to identify how characteristics and values of rural communities can be leveraged to promote positive psychological health,” said researcher Olivia Atherton, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston.

Atherton and her colleagues analyzed data from two large longitudinal studies of Americans, the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

They looked at whether there were different levels and changes in extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. They also examined whether there were differences or change in psychological well-being and life satisfaction across adulthood.

“Given the far-reaching consequences of rural health disparities for individuals, families and communities, there is a pressing need to identify the psychological, social and structural mechanisms responsible for disparities and the ways in which to intervene upon those mechanisms to improve the health of rural Americans,” Atherton said in a university news release.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Personality.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on rural health care.

SOURCE: University of Houston, news release, March 13, 2023