Rural areas, with their wide open spaces and individualistic residents, have many advantages over their urban counterparts. But these qualities that are often considered positive traits are also contributing to a major problem — increasing suicide rates.

A recently published Ohio State University study entitled “Contextual Factors Associated With County-Level Suicide Rates in the United States, 1999 to 2016,” found that rural counties, especially in the Ozarks and Bootheel, are at the center of the problem in the Midwest.

Among the biggest factors the studies lists are that rural areas have inadequate access to mental health care, while there is plenty of access to drugs, alcohol and other implements of destruction. While easy access to guns and drugs in rural areas have been placed at the forefront of this issue, another major factor stood out to me, because it is something I’ve heard a lot about from our area readers. That would be the diminishing memberships of social networks and clubs.

Many people in rural areas share the belief that strong people don’t need to seek help, and that any trial or tribulation can be weathered with a firm jaw and strong shoulders. While this may be the case for some people, there is no shame in needing help from a medical professional, or even just the people around you.

Rural areas used to have several strong social networks and fraternal groups that built a sense of togetherness and well-being that helped get one another through difficult times, but many of these groups have been on the downslide for decades.

Audrain, Cooper and Randolph counties fortunately aren’t experiencing the suicide epedmic as much as others in Missouri, but the study found that they are still at an increased risk. 

The study suggests that increasing civil opportunities and a person’s sense of social connectivity decreases suicide risks by giving people positive emotional outlets. It isn’t surprising then that rural social clubs and other local organizations are seeing diminished memberships in communities throughout mid-Missouri, adding to the sense of isolation many rural residents face.

While these groups are smaller, they are not gone, and there are plenty of opportunities to see local social networks reach new heights. There are several quilting, writing, political and activist groups throughout our communities looking for new members, such as the League of Women Voters, Pachyderm Club, Boonslick Creative Writers Group, Optimists Club, Prairie Pine Quilt Guild and many others. There are also groups that just like to meet up and tell stories, like the Good Old Boys group that meets during the winter months at the Midway diner outside Columbia. 

So if you or somebody you know is feeling lonely or isolated, encourage them to reach out to a group of people that share their interests. And if you are a part of a group looking for new members, please reach out to your local newspaper and let people know what the group has to offer. You can submit your information in the form of a news brief of about 500 words or less to

 Allen Fennewald is a GateHouse Missouri regional editor.