Rural Mental Health


Every year one in five Australians will experience a mental illness. Mental illness is the third leading cause of disability burden in Australia today. Adolescents with mental health problems report higher rates of suicide and other health-risk behaviours, such as smoking drinking and drug use. Approximately 12% of adolescents between the ages of 13-17 report having thoughts about suicides with 4.2% actually making a suicide attempt.

Rural communities continue to face not only a unique set of stress factors but also a unique range of service delivery restraints. The low population density of rural Australia impacts on the number and range of service providers in the mental health field.

Managing mental health is a serious challenge in many rural communities.  Although rural communities experience similar rates of mental health morbidity relative to their non-rural counterparts, the suicide rate of farmers is substantially higher than the national average for employed adults. This elevated risk has been attributed to the unique combination of complex occupational and location related stressors that confront farmers, including: debt burden, social isolation, farm hazards, time pressure and dependency on weather and other environmental factors.

Research into rural populations in the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, Canada and the US suggests “farming is associated with a unique set of characteristics and stressors that are potentially hazardous to mental health”.  These stressors manifest themselves beyond just farmers, eventually affecting the entire rural coomunity. 

In Australia, drought is perhaps one of the most intense stressors with acute and constant pressure on livestock producers in particular as circumstances escalate and livestock condition is impacted.  It is fair to say that the underlying mental wellbeing of people connected to the bush ebbs and flows to some extent with rainfall and the condition of their country.

The quality of management decisions is adversely affected by increasing mental stress and it is essential for the optimization of long term environmental outcomes from agriculture that constructive and proactive intervention empowers and enables primary producers to harmonise management objectives between short term financial pressure and long term production consideration.

As an adjunct to the broader mental health issues in rural and regional Australia, it is also essential to consider issues of child welfare and support specific to rural and regional Australia.

Reports suggest that a disproportionately high number of displaced children on the streets of our capital cities come from rural and regional communities.  Similar sources indicate that the work of welfare NGOs is stretched too thin as they try to intercept the ongoing influx of young people before they become prey.

CountryMinded is not suggesting that rural and regional people are less committed parents or carers and these problems are not isolated to any particular demographic.  However, it is a logical extension that children who are physically isolated more easily become emotionally isolated.  Similarly, the increasing general pressure evident in rural and regional communities resulting from political indifference and the related socio economic decline simultaneously amplify the pressure on our young people.

The reasons children become displaced are many and varied: domestic violence; sexual violence; gender and sexuality issues; religious pressure; alcohol and substance abuse; family dysfunction; financial hardship; and the list goes on.

Contrary to popular belief these issues are not exclusive to any particular segment of our socioeconomic demographic.  Regardless of where these issues originate it is clear that proactive steps must be taken to limit the incidence, impact and repercussions of these problems before children are displaced and in increased danger.

The solutions to all of these problems are inevitably complex, but invariably the first step in solving a problem is to responsibly acknowledge there is a problem.   Part of this process must include the realisation that it is in fact collectively our problem. 

Initiatives to intercept at risk people should be founded on principle directives of increasing a sense of self and provide a safe, secure, non-judgmental place for those needing support.

CountryMinded is committed to acting purposefully for all sectors and generations of rural and regional Australia.  With this in mind CountryMinded will:

  • Extend support of the Australian Psychological Society and the Australian Medical Association in providing affordable, timely and appropriate face to face psychological support services in rural and regional Australia.
  • Support the extension of e-mental health services such as those provided by Reach Out and Headspace. These services allow users to prevent, treat and recover from mental illness.
  • Support training in mental health ‘first-aid’ skills to service providers of the agricultural sector. This would include such providers as: relevant governmental department officers, financial counsellors, stock and station agents, and banking sector representatives. Included in these first-aid initiatives should be regular mentor services to schools and youth groups in rural and regional Australia.
  • Extend support to rural orientated initiatives such as the ‘Glove box Guide to Mental Health’ and ‘Tie up the black dog’ tour.
  • Support community driven initiatives aim at reducing social isolation through sporting, cultural, or interest driven gatherings whose aims are to encourage individual participation of all age groups.

Specifically for the protection of at risk children, CountryMinded will:

  • engage NGOs working with at risk children to raise the public awareness of the issue and support services to increase resources to support them on the front line
  • support an extension of pastoral support services and resources for families and at risk children in rural and regional Australia
  • engage community leaders on a local basis to develop appropriate and relevant strategies to raise awareness of act against this problem
  • implement a “political awareness” program targeting state and federal politicians and relevant senior bureaucrats to prioritise child protection and make them directly accountable for it.

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  • Warwick Tweedie
    commented 2016-06-23 15:44:36 +1000
    Fixing the banking/financial sector would go a long way toward solving this, though not all.