Wimmera mental health stigma continues for rural and regional residents

File photo.
File photo.

THERE is still a long way to go to decrease the stigma of mental health in rural communities, a Wimmera mental health worker says.

Grampians Partners in Recovery manager Kate Astbury said people living in isolated rural communities often mistook mental health issues as something else.

“A lot of people think mental health issues could just be stress related and they talk about it in the context of stress rather than something more serious,” she said.

“We’ve come a long way in reducing the stigma around asking for help or even just acknowledging a mental health issue, but the fact is that the stigma still exists.”

Her comments come after the National Rural Health Alliance revealed that a third of people living in rural or remote Australia who suffer moderate to high psychological distress don't think they have a mental health problem.

The finding was published in the Australian Journal of Rural Health last month.

More than 2500 rural residents were surveyed for the study.

Of those surveyed, 472 people reported moderate to very high levels of psychological distress in the past twelve months. A third of these people did not report any mental health problems.

The study suggested that mental illness in rural areas was often under reported because of the lack of mental health professionals working in the country. 

But it also noted that rural people were less likely to seek help even if services are available.

Ms Astbury said rural people under reported due to lack of knowledge of where to seek the right type of help.

“Some people don’t have the understanding that mental health is a spectrum and support varies for different things,” she said.

"Even understanding the degrees of illness and which professional is best suited to them is something that needs a better understanding.

“Plus, then there’s the lack of access to those services with doctor shortages around the region.”

She said the best way to end stigma around mental illness was by education.

“We need to increase people’s understanding of mental illness and have conversations around what mental illness actually is,” she said.

“One of the ways we can help reduce the stigma is by encouraging people to reach out and ask for help. It’s also good to ask someone if they’re okay.

“I want to encourage people to share their problems with someone and go see a general practitioner – they will be able to point you in the right direction.

“Half the population will have some sort of mental health issue in their lifetime. Farmers are a highly resilient, but there comes a point where everyone needs to ask for help.”