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We need to tackle the blind-spot on mental health in rural areas

We need to tackle the blind-spot on mental health in rural areas
3 min read

Success for a select committee is not measured in headlines alone. Committee reports are considered and answered by government, as well as extensive coverage in these pages.

A well-framed investigation into a lesser-known subject can have just as much impact on future policy as those that guarantee media attention.

The inquiry the EFRA Committee announced in late November into rural mental health can make a real difference. While interest in mental health is growing, too often the rural aspect remains hidden.

It’s a subject that holds much interest for me. Twice I’ve suffered from bouts of clinical depression: the more recent came towards the end of a prolonged period working for an organisation based in Parliament. My employers could not have been more accommodating. That its managers were there for me speaks not only to their integrity, but also what their resources could practically achieve.

Having since joined the Countryside Alliance, I approached this inquiry with a certain sense of irony. It took very little research to see the contrast between my own experience and that faced by others in rural communities. I had the time and space I needed to get through it. Had I been working in a more independent field, especially in a traditional rural occupation such as farming or gamekeeping where the work must continue regardless and cover can be difficult to arrange, it’s likely my recovery would have been neither so swift nor complete.

While interest in mental health is growing, too often the rural aspect remains hidden

We surveyed our members and supporters on their experience of mental health in rural areas, inviting responses both from those with and without direct experiences of mental health and healthcare services available in their community. We know that people are far less inclined to seek help if they aren’t convinced it will be forthcoming, so this latter inclusion was similarly important.

Our survey ran from early December to January and it was a runaway success. We received more than 700 responses, including over 1,700 written comments. We hope that the results and analysis that framed our submission will be helpful to the Committee.

On care provision, the survey confirmed our understanding that the twin challenges of lower population densities and longer travelling times to access services mean apportioning resources across the country on a strictly numerical basis would inevitably lead to rural areas being left behind.

Provision must instead be tailored to the needs of local communities, with these factors taken into account. This is particularly true given the strong preference we uncovered for services delivered in person, as opposed to by remote technological means.

We were also keen to understand the key drivers of mental ill-health in rural communities. Understandably the coronavirus pandemic loomed large; many respondents focused on the enforced curtailment of community and social life that was imposed as part of attempts to limit infection.

More subtly though, we also found a degree of despondency at contemporary attitudes towards rural life that numerous respondents found alien to the realities of the countryside. The 30 per cent who reported having suffered harassment, often on social media, for supporting country sports were acutely affected.

The ostentatiously liberal promoters of fashionable views on environmental and animal supremacism are often among the first to trumpet their awareness of mental health challenges and their concentration on “lived experience”. They would do well to tackle their own blind-spot on rural folk.

 

David Bean is Parliament and Government Relations Manager at the Countryside Alliance. 

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