Those of us living with a mental health condition (whether diagnosed or undiagnosed) can often feel isolated. For people living in a small rural or remote community this can often mean feeling even more isolated.
Mental health and suicide prevention programs are often designed for people who live in cities, failing to account for the unique experience of people living in small and isolated rural communities.
The Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities is an initiative of the Healthy Communities Foundation Australia - the only mainstream rural health organisation headquartered in a rural town.
"How we learn and think is influenced by the environment in which we live" said Cass Talbot, Manager of Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities.
"Rural people live in an environment that is subject to many variables like the weather and natural disasters which are outside the control of individuals, but have an enormous impact on individual lives and wellbeing."
"There is this learnt expectation that rural people need to be mentally tough, able to handle anything life throws at them. This is not just a behaviour, it's is an integral part of rural identity for many people.
"It is absolutely true that rural people are tough, inventive, innovative and practical. But this can lead to negative ideas that rural people just have to get on and deal with adversity alone. This can lead to challenges when circumstances become overwhelming."
"Climate change, family breakdown, loss of employment, natural disasters, growing up gay - these and other things can pile up in our minds and stoicism just doesn't stack up any more as a coping strategy.
"We need to have new ways of dealing with the constancy of change in our lives, the impact of environmental, economic and social stresses, and the collective trauma that arises from rural marginalisation.
"Rurality imposes different pressures and expectations that require different approaches to mental wellbeing compared to a program designed for people living in cities" said Ms Talbot.
The need for specific approaches to rural and remote mental health is illustrated by the rate of suicide and mental distress in the regions across rural Australia.
In 2022, rates of suicide for rural residents were well above the national rate. The rate for residents of Very Remote areas was 2.3 times that of the rate for residents of Major Cities. This is also reflected in rate of suicide for Aboriginal people, the majority of whom live in rural and remote communities.
The Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities program was co-designed by rural people and people with lived experience of mental health and suicide living in those rural areas.
Healthy Minds, Health Communities delivers the QIP accredited National Rural and Remote Suicide Prevention Program with funding from the Commonwealth Government. This program couples community based awareness and resilience training supported by the National Rugby League, with community based first responder and health professional training, and a Rural Mental Health Crisis Support Program delivered by nurses living in rural towns.
The Program is keen to explore interest from other sporting codes to expand our reach into a wider range of rural and remote communities where other codes are more prevalent, and to engage different groups, including AFL, Netball, Cricket, Rugby Union and Soccer.
"The Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities, and suicide prevention program, ensures timely access to mental health and crisis support close to where people live.
"This is just one example of community-led health planning that the Foundation is supporting, and which is transforming the health and well-being of local communities.
"It is proving what we already know, but too often neglect, that rural people have the inventiveness and practicality to understand their own priorities, and design programs to meet their own needs, if they get the right support" said Ms Talbot.
The Program works with Primary Health Networks, Local Health Networks, government, businesses and community organisations to offer services to support them to co-design innovative approaches to mental wellbeing, suicide prevention, and acute and chronic care that reflects the needs of diverse communities.
For more information about the program, our services or how we can help your agency or community to design and deliver place-based approaches to mental health please contact Cass Talbot on (02) 4062 8900.