Mental health in rural areas
Life can be great in the country, with plenty of space, fresh air and tight knit communities. However, there’s more to rural life than this simple stereotype.
A recent Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health study found several factors increase the chances of mental health challenges in remote communities, including the absence of partners, poor finances, a greater severity of mental health problems and higher stress and hardship levels.
Another study has found those living in metropolitan areas have three times more access to psychological help.
“The need is no less, and may even be greater, but the supply is distinctly less in rural areas,” psychologist Deli Baker explains, “and the more remote the area, the fewer resources there are and the longer the waiting times. This translates into worse psychological outcomes for people.”
These outcomes can be devastating. “We see a lot of suicides because of the barriers to support systems,” says Baker. Some of these barriers to mental health support in rural areas include:
- Isolation and remoteness, which can lead to difficulties accessing support. It can also lead to feeling lonely, too. Baker says: “If people are suffering they’re often doing it by themselves, which can cause some major problems.”
- Stigma. While a mental health stigma exists everywhere, it can be more concentrated when you’re living in a smaller community. “The stigma is compounded in rural areas, which increases the barriers,” says Baker. “Seeking help is hard in any case, but when you add a stigma to that, it’s going to be even harder.”
- There are also rural jobs, like farming, that are high stress and physically and psychologically demanding.
How to get mental health help
Try changing your self-talk
When you’re struggling, the best place to start is with yourself. “People are often very hard on themselves,” Baker says. “Lots of people have double standards, so other people are allowed to be vulnerable but, in your mind, you’re not.”
It’s important to understand it’s normal to experience mental health challenges. In fact, almost half of Australia’s population will experience some form of mental health condition. Baker advises: “Say to yourself that it’s okay to feel this way, that it’s real and true and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Talk to a friend
Who can you turn to when things are tough? “Speak to someone you trust and enlist the support and assistance of those around you who would be willing to help,” suggests Baker.
Let the people you trust into your struggles, tell them how things are for you right now, and give them the opportunity to support you. “A lot of people don’t realise what’s going on, because those who are struggling develop skills in hiding it,” says Baker. “It’s really good to be able to say to somebody that you’re not doing well and that you need some help.”
She adds stay determined to open up: “Keep trying to get help, even if your other efforts have failed.”
See your GP
GPs are well equipped to put you in touch with other resources and methods for getting the right help.
Seek help anonymously
Some people find it confronting to be seen at a psychologist’s office within their rural community, or worry who will be talking about them around town. Fortunately, there are other ways to get professional help so no one else knows.
“A lot of psychologists do Skype sessions,” says Baker, who helps a lot of rural people in this way. “For example, I have a client who Skypes me from a smart phone in his car.”
Be aware before it all gets too much
When you live in a remote area, educate yourself on your mental health risks. Think about the risk factors, such as loneliness, isolation, difficulty in finding support services, financial worries, seasonal hardships and other things that might affect you.
One of the greatest protectors against mental health challenges is getting involved in the community. Find some activities you enjoy and engage with others who share similar interests.
By being aware, you can work at preventing mental illness and be prepared for what you’ll do if you do begin to struggle.
This article was provided by SuperFriend, a national mental health foundation that helps workplaces promote and support improved mental health and wellbeing for their employees.