Survey reveals lack of mental health understanding in regional areas

A third of country people who are suffering moderate to high psychological distress don't think they have a mental health problem according to the Australian Journal of Rural Health.

Two and a half thousand people were surveyed from across rural and remote areas, 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.

Respondents were asked if they'd experienced any mental health problems in the past twelve months, and then they filled in a questionnaire that measures psychological distress.

The survey, called "Self recognition of mental health problems in a rural Australian sample", breaks new ground in rural mental health research and showed a significant portion of country people have problems identifying mental illness.

The new study said mental illness in rural areas was often under reported because of the lack of mental health professionals working in the country but also noted rural people were less likely to seek help even if services were available.

The study said "poor mental health literacy" was a critical barrier to country people getting the help they need.

It added that country people were reluctant to acknowledge distress as a problem, and had a tendency to associate ‘mental health problems’ with severe disorders that might require hospitalisation.

From their research, the authors are calling for a public health campaign that will specifically target people living in regional and rural areas. 

Lishman Health Foundation executive officer Tanya Meyer said it was clear from state and nation-wide statistics that the most significant emerging issues affecting the ‘big picture’ health of regional and remote Australians were chronic disease, mental health problems and substance abuse.

“Moving forward, the foundation plans to coordinate strategic locally targeted responses to mental health issues, by facilitating dialogue between health authorities, practitioners, service planners and local government together with communities,” she said. 

Earlier this year the state government confirmed Bunbury would receive a new mental health facility in 2020 with additional funding for the project announced in the 2018 budget. 

Bunbury MLA Don Punch said the facility would be an important addition to available services. 

“This service will be an essential part of a suite of mental health services that are able to respond appropriately to individual need,” he said. 

“This facility will allow people living with a mental illness to receive support in their own community.”