Published on 09/13/18

University of Georgia convenes rural stress roundtable to lay the groundwork for a healthier rural America

By Merritt Melancon

The challenges facing rural America today are diverse, and the answers to rural issues won’t come from a single expert or institution.

That’s why the University of Georgia is convening its first forum on rural stress, bringing together experts from across the nation to unpack the underlying causes of the challenges facing rural Americans — economic stagnation, opioid dependence, population migration, increasing suicide rates — and help build an interdisciplinary framework for finding solutions.

“Rural Stress: Promising Practices and Future Directions” will be held in Atlanta Dec. 10-11, 2018, at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta-Airport. Interested stakeholders, local officials, business leaders and academic researchers studying rural issues are welcome to attend. Faculty of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, and the UGA School of Social Work are hosting the forum.

The hope is to leverage the existing organizational and outreach structure of land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension System to find solutions.

“The role of land-grant institutions has always been to connect the needs of people with the research-based resources that come from our universities,” said Sam Pardue, dean and director of the CAES. “Since before the Great Depression and the farm crisis of the 1980s — when rural communities were in trouble — land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension System have worked hand in hand with local officials and local families to improve the communities’ prospects. That’s what we’re doing here.”

In order to develop collaborative solutions, experts in mental and physical public health, rural development, economic development, and substance abuse prevention from more than a dozen states will present and participate in roundtable discussions.

“The stresses faced by rural communities are complex and multifaceted — financial strain, lack of access to health and behavioral healthcare, social isolation, the opioid epidemic,” said Anna Scheyett, dean and director of the UGA School of Social Work. “We need an interdisciplinary approach if we are going to provide them with the support they need to face these challenges. Having the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences come together with the School of Social Work and other social sciences, in the context of a land-grant university, to tackle these issues has the potential for meaningful impact in rural communities.”

Each school or college involved in the forum has experience working in rural development, and that history will better enable them to make the connections that could lead to solutions.

“Families are at the core of helping address the complexity of the stresses communities are facing,” said Linda Kirk Fox, dean of the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “The multidisciplinary approaches we apply in our Family and Consumer Sciences Extension program have been an integral part of Extension work at the local level for more than 100 years working with farm, rural and urban families.” 

To see the forum agenda, go to


Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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