by David Bean

Countryside Alliance research published by the House of Commons has revealed the scale of the challenge to mental health in rural areas, not least from ideologically motivated animosity and abuse.

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into rural mental health and, late last week, published evidence submitted by the Countryside Alliance based on a survey conducted over Christmas. The survey uncovered a broad spectrum of experiences of mental health and healthcare, and suggested that a key driver of ill-health was a lack of appreciation and respect for the rural way of life throughout the country, from policymakers to individuals. Most disturbing were the reports of harassment and bullying.

Attracting a total of 717 responses and over 1,700 individual comments, the survey was designed to elicit information that would be useful in addressing those questions being considered by the Committee that respondents would be well placed to comment on. The inquiry is considering questions relating to:

  • The specific mental health challenges faced by rural communities.
  • Mental health and suicide prevention services, and how well they meet the needs of rural populations.
  • Suicide rates among agricultural workers and related occupations, and the effectiveness of prevention services.
  • Mental health support available in rural communities following shock events.
  • The impact of recent Government investment in mental healthcare.
  • How joined up public bodies are in the overall provision of mental healthcare to rural communities.

The survey allowed us to frame six key recommendations. Chief among these was that mental health support must be tailored to the needs of rural communities, not the convenience of the providers; while there is a role for remote provision by telephone or computers, more than 67% said that they would prefer to access mental healthcare in person.

Funding for services should be apportioned across the country in a manner that recognises the inherently lower population density of rural areas. Services should become more visible, to encourage people who need help to seek it at an earlier stage. The UK as a whole must eschew ideological hostility towards rural occupations and pursuits, developing a greater appreciation for the realities of life in the countryside. Victims of online abuse should routinely be offered mental health support. Lastly, the Committee and the Government should recognise gamekeeping as a profession at elevated risk of crisis.

With the Government having since introduced its flagship Online Safety Bill, the Alliance has conducted a follow-up survey looking into the issue of online abuse more closely. We will share more details of this work and our proposals for tackling it as the Bill progresses.

Click here to read the Countryside Alliance’s full submission to the inquiry and, to support our work in standing up for the vital services our rural communities rely on, join the Countryside Alliance today.

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