Rural Australians neglecting mental health 

17 November 2010

Many Australians living in rural and regional areas are neglecting their mental health, according to psychologists speaking during National Psychology Week.

Psychologists say that people living in country areas, from farmers to business people in regional towns, deal with unique issues such as long distances and geographical isolation, and feel the effects of climate change, droughts and floods – and even locust plagues.

“This exposure to volatile environmental conditions can create stress and uncertainty as people don’t have control over many issues that are affecting their livelihood,” said clinical psychologist Dr Robyn Vines, Chair of the Australian Psychological Society’s Regional Rural and Remote Advisory Group.

“The impact of drought alone, with the financial stress it brings, has been shown to lead to anxiety, depression, family breakdown, grief and anger. To help cope with financial demands, families will often cut unnecessary expenses by limiting trips to town for essential items only, for example, which may further isolate them from their communities.”

For many rural Australians, much of their identity is tied up in their work and their community – especially people such as farmers who live and work in the same place.

“Most people in metropolitan areas can go home to get away from work; however in a smaller community, people mainly socialise with those with whom they also do business, and family members are also often business partners – all of which can create friction, lead to difficulty in ensuring adequate time off and potential mental health problems if strategies aren’t put in place to help cope,” Dr Vines said.

According to rural and regional psychologist, Stuart Rennie, who has worked with farming
communities, some farmers place great priority on the health of their livestock, machinery and the farm, often to the detriment of their own mental health.

“What many farmers don’t acknowledge is that their own mental health and wellbeing is critically important to their business,” said Mr Rennie.

“Farmers and farming families especially should watch out for their mates. Farmers often work in geographical isolation but maintaining positive social contact with those who matter is crucial, even if it’s just a regular phone call or social catch up,” said Mr Rennie.

Dr Vines added, “Country people have no hesitation in seeking out an accountant or solicitor, or in heading to the local mechanic to get their car fixed, but are more reluctant to seek a mental health check up with their GP or ask for a referral to a mental health professional such as a psychologist.”

Dr Vines believes that part of the issue in smaller communities may be that health professionals, such as GPs and psychologists, are sometimes known to local people on a social level, making it more difficult for people to be willing to talk to about personal issues.

Also, there may be the perceptionthat only people with a serious mental illness need help.

“Improving mental health means equipping people to cope with what life throws at them – often psychologists can assist people by giving them stress management strategies, techniques to help them sleep, strategies to manage worry and to reduce negative thought patterns, enabling them to remain positive and enjoy life,” she said.

Dr Vines said it was important that people know a range of mental health services are now covered under Medicare, reducing the financial burden.

Strategies for good mental health

“It’s not a sign of weakness to acknowledge that you are stressed or depressed,” said Dr Vines.

“Psychologists can offer practical tips and strategies that can make a difference to your life – and just like any other health professional, we take patient confidentiality very seriously.”

Good mental health means being resilient, enjoying life and maintaining positive social relationships and there are many things that individuals can do to protect and enhance their mental health.

Many of the practical strategies for good mental health are around prioritising what is most important – and ideally, these strategies will begin to be put into place during a good year or in a seasonal lull, before stress levels begin to rise.

Tips for maintaining good mental health

  • Remember that your livelihood is dependent on your physical and mental health.
  • Examine your life balance and commit to spending time on what’s most important and enjoyable to you.
  • Make a point of separating business time from family and leisure time.
  • Call a friend or neighbour regularly to check in with them and see how they are going.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Look out for signs that stress is mounting: constant worry, inability to sleep, losing your temper more often, feeling hopeless or feeling overwhelmed.
  • Be open to learning skills in mental health care, such as techniques to manage stress, negative thoughts, incessant worry, insomnia, difficult emotions.
  • Insist on a mental health check‐up with your GP or ask for a referral to a mental health professional.

Under the Australian Government’s Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative, mental health services provided by a GP, psychiatrist, psychologist, occupational therapist or social worker attract a Medicare rebate under certain requirements.

For more information about psychological services provided under Medicare and eligibility
requirements visit:

Contact

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: 

Stephanie Childs 
Phone: 0416 009 035 / 03 9600 0006

Rachael Nightingale
Phone: 0449 881 980 / 03 9600 0006.