Social and Emotional Wellbeing in Rural Areas

Social and emotional wellbeing refers to a multidimensional concept of health, which encompasses mental health alongside other domains of health and wellbeing, including connection to country, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community.

Dispossession, racism, trauma, disadvantage and disconnection from culture and country as well as disengagement from education and employment are all underlying contributors to low levels of social and emotional wellbeing amongst young people in rural and remote areas, which can in turn contribute to substance misuse and suicide.

Addressing low levels of social and emotional wellbeing requires holistic policies and services, which empower and increase the capacity of community, family and individuals to support recovery and resilience. Further, elders, leaders and communities in rural and remote areas must drive these solutions.

Given the serious, long lasting impacts that mental health disorders can have, both on young people themselves and those around them, it is critical that effective mental health interventions and services are in place and that they are relevant and easily accessible for young people, as well as those who care for and support them. Services need to be promoted so that young people are aware of their existence, as well as how these services can be accessed and navigated.

The evidence continues to highlight an undeniable need to make youth mental health a policy priority, demonstrating high prevalence and a significant disease burden amongst this cohort.

While adolescence can be a particularly challenging time for young people, it is importantly also a period in which there is great potential to provide prevention and early intervention services and supports to improve mental health and wellbeing.

By intervening early, improving knowledge around mental health and encouraging help-seeking behavior, it may be possible to not only circumvent the short term detrimental effects of mental health disorders, but also to safeguard young people from longer term, ongoing cycles of dysfunction and disadvantage that may result when mental health disorders remain untreated into adulthood.

This is particularly the case in rural and remote areas where few, if any, opportunities exist for young people to engage with mental health services. Where hospitals are accessed, the leading causes of this hospitalization are schizophrenia, alcohol misuse and reactions to severe stress.

Key policy recommendations include:

  • Schools should provide evidence-based universal mental health prevention and intervention programs for young people.
  • Technology that provides an alternative to face-to face service delivery should be supported and invested in to meet the mental health needs of young people.
  • Friends and family need to be equipped to provide support to young people when they seek help in relation to their mental health.
  • Young people in rural and remote areas need access to culturally sensitive and age appropriate mental health services that are close to their homes.
  • A gendered approach to the mental health of young people is required that takes into account help seeking preferences, as well as other social pressures such as gender based discrimination and ideals of appearance.
  • Community based, recovery orientated supports are needed to complement clinical and acute care services.