Walmart’s Mental Health Clinics Could Be a Game Changer
If it’s successful, the retailer could make therapy more accessible and affordable for rural Americans
Amid the clatter of shopping carts outside the Dallas, Georgia, Walmart, Erica Rowell crinkled her nose as she glanced toward the other end of the store. There, past a Subway restaurant, a nail salon, a veterinary center, and an ocean of checkout lanes, stood Walmart Health, a clinic offering primary care, dentistry, and mental health services — the first and only one in the United States.
Rowell had heard of the clinic’s grand opening the prior week. Would she consider seeing a therapist there?
“No,” she said, “not at a Walmart.”
Like Rowell, some consumers may have early doubts about the quality of mental health services obtained from the same source as family packs of toilet paper. While deep discounts might not cloud trust in the quality of ordinary household goods, some may note a jarring incongruity in entrusting their fragile inner selves to a brand closely associated with a price-slashing smiley face.
Still, Walmart’s dominance as a retailer could make it a major player in the mental health space. While the clinic offerings are still in early testing stages, if the services are spread to more stores it could mean more accessible and affordable mental health care for rural Americans — and potentially normalize it in places where seeking care is often a source of shame.
In rural regions of the United States, the consequences of untreated mental illness are dire: A recent analysis published in JAMA Network Open revealed that suicide rates are higher, and rising more quickly, in rural than urban counties, and people living in rural areas are hospitalized for mental health issues at higher rates than residents of metro areas.
Experts attribute this in part to the expense of mental health care and the stigma associated with it, which together cause many rural Americans to avoid or delay seeking care for mental health symptoms. Rural dwellers with severe mental illness are more likely to self-pay for care than their urban counterparts, and likely to have higher out-of-pocket costs for health care in general…