On the Blog: Stigma and Isolation in Rural Communities

An opinion piece written by Tye Gerrard, member of the Youth Focus Youth Reference Group

Spending the majority of my formative years growing up in rural Queensland, I had first hand exposure to the hardships experienced in these communities. In particular, periods of drought as well as low socioeconomic circumstance affecting many families. To this extent, I watched as friends and family struggled with maintaining good mental health.

In my opinion, the key driver of these underlying issues most noticeable throughout my youth was an ideology that hardship must always be answered with strength. That periods of extreme drought or bushfires must be answered with bravery and any show of emotion or open discussion about hardship embodied weakness. As stigmas prevented those who needed help the most seeking it in my small town, it was heartbreaking to witness the widespread effects of poor mental health on the community, impacting life at home and school for many of my friends.

Whilst change is occurring, rural and remote communities are still suffering with the latest Royal Flying Doctor Service Mental Health Report showing that these communities on average have double the rate of suicide, yet only access mental health services at a fifth of the rate.1 The research found that farmers along with Indigenous Australians are among the most at risk of suicide.

With hindsight, I often wonder how different the lives of those around me would have been if a similar service that Youth Focus provides in Western Australia, or if a tool such as Mental Health First Aid was available at the time. It was these experiences that embodied for me the importance of the work undertaken at Youth Focus, the engagement strategies with not only those in the metropolitan area – but utilising tools such as the Hawaiian Ride for Youth to reach a wider audience. Programs such as the Mental Health First Aid not only provide support strategies, but stimulate conversation, letting people know that it is okay, not to be okay.

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