One in four people in the UK have been diagnosed with a mental illness and looking after our mental wellbeing has become one of the biggest national health challenges. For rural and farming communities, figures indicate that on average one farmer a week dies by suicide, making the subject of mental health increasingly important.
With two awareness days that took place in the autumn – World Suicide Prevention day on 10th September and World Mental Health Awareness day on 10th October – the national spotlight is firmly upon our mental health.
What is causing poor mental health in rural areas?
Nearly 10 million of the population in England live in areas defined as rural. And this number is growing. Statistics show that if you live in the countryside you are less likely to die prematurely from cancer, stroke or coronary heart disease. On average, people born in very rural areas will live up to two years longer than those in major urban area.
While this is good news for the physical health of rural communities, what does this mean for the mental health of these communities? They face a number of specific challenges which can impact their mental wellbeing, including:
Rural communities are getting older
The rural population is ageing whilst at the same time many of the younger population are choosing urban living over rural life. This presents a number of complex healthcare needs associated with ageing populations.
Financial pressures are taking their toll
A major cause of stress and depression for British farmers are the financial pressures they face, the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit and the impact of bad weather upon their businesses. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) identified that the risk of suicide was higher amongst those working in specific agricultural roles such as harvesting crops and rearing animals (almost twice the national average).
Poverty in rural areas is also highly concentrated amongst older people, leading to financial worries and concerns about being able to make ends meet.
Isolation & social exclusion
Changes in the make-up of rural communities are leading to increased social isolation and loneliness, especially among older people. Feeling isolated and socially excluded can have a profound effect upon people’s emotional and mental health.
Limited digital access
A combination of the older demographic and the unavailability of high speed broadband and mobile phone networks are leading to an increasing digital gap between urban and rural areas. This is compounded by the growing number of essential services – such as banking and health-related services – that are now accessible online.
Access to healthcare services
Rural communities have to travel further to access health and wellbeing services. Longer distances to GPs, dentists, hospitals and other health facilities mean that rural residents can experience ‘distance decay’ where service use decreases with increasing distance. Figures show that:
- 80% of rural residents live within 4km of a GP surgery, compared with 98% of the urban population
- Only 55% of rural households live within 8km of a hospital compared to 97% of urban households
- 57% of rural residents live within 4km of an NHS dentist, compared with 98% of the urban population
People in rural communities may have limited access to the diversity of care they need. Typically, the closest healthcare providers are generalists and it is harder to access specialised mental health support. It is common for mental health services provided in rural areas to be orientated towards crisis intervention, not focused on prevention. This can increase the feeling of isolation that people experiencing mental health issues feel.
Culturally, for many living in rural and farming communities, talking about their feelings does not come naturally. Some people feel that there is still a stigma associated around talking about their mental health and this can prevent them from opening up in the first place.
High profile campaigns such as ‘Heads Together’ and the promotion of the ‘it’s ok to not be ok’ message are helping and increasing awareness, but many accept that this is just the start and there is still more to be done to address our national psyche of ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’.
Support is on hand
No one has to face mental health problems alone. If you can’t talk to your family or friends, there are lots of organisations who offer confidential support:
- Farming Community Network (FCN) – www.fcn.org.uk
- Mind – www.mind.org.uk
- Samaritans – www.samaritans.org
- Mental Health Foundation – www.mentalhealth.org.uk
For more information on Mental Health contact Richard Gould, Director of Commercial, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing firstname.lastname@example.org
For any rural insurance matters contact Pat Jones, Executive Director – Head of Rural email@example.com