Most people with mental health issues in rural areas don’t seek treatment and access to mental health services is limited outside the major cities. So rural professionals like hairdressers, bank managers, agriculture suppliers and vets have a crucial yet often overlooked role in looking after the mental health of their community.
These professionals have trusted work relationships where country people often pour out their emotions and open up to them about their problems. Training in some simple skills would allow them to approach these conversations with confidence, and contribute to improving the mental health of their communities.
Rural mental health
Rates of mental illness in rural communities are actually similar to those in metropolitan areas. However, rural people have higher rates of suicide and harmful alcohol use and about 70% of those with mental health problems do not seek treatment.
This is for a few reasons. First, there is a lack of mental health services in rural areas. In NSW for example, a quarter of people live outside major cities but 91% of psychiatrists have their main practice in a city. Second, people have difficulties accessing what specialist rural services there are due to cost (like lower rates of bulk-billing in rural areas) and distance.
And third, the stigma attached means many people may not seek help. This is especially the case in smaller communities where individuals are more visible and confidentiality may be less certain, and there is a culture of stoicism and self-reliance. All of this leads to people in rural areas being less likely to seek help – people from cities are almost twice as likely to have seen a psychologist in the last year (15%) compared with those from rural areas (8%).