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Living in Rural and Remote Areas

Rural and Remote Health

Rural and remote Australia refers to those areas outside of major cities defined by a number of different official geographical classifications. They are made up of many diverse settlements including pastoral, farming, mining, tourism and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, which have different social and economic determinants of health.

Rural and remote areas also share common traits such as generally older populations, higher levels of health risks and higher rates of disease, chronic disease and injury. People living in these areas generally have less access to health services with shortages of almost all health professions and health-related infrastructure.


Mental Health in Rural Australia

Living and working in a rural and remote location can be a rewarding and challenging way of life. It can be difficult for people living in remote locations to access help and support for mental health problems for many reasons.

Learn more about rural and remote mental health. You can also access trusted online programs, fact sheets, communities, audio and video resources on crisis management.

 

Medical Specialist Outreach Program

This program is designed to improve access to specialist services in rural and remote Australia. These services are prioritised based on community need and endorsed by an advisory forum operating in each state and in the Northern Territory. This program includes Indigenous Chronic Disease multi-disciplinary teams and multi-disciplinary maternity services teams. Guidelines for access to these services can be obtained at www.health.gov.au.

 

National Rural and Remote Health Infrastructure Program

This is a competitive grant program which aims to improve access to health services by providing funding to rural and remote communities for essential health infrastructure and equipment, and for strategic service planning for small rural private hospitals. More information can be obtained by emailing nrrhip@health.gov.au or by calling 1800 780 939 FREE (8.00 am to 4.30pm AEST).

 

Rural Women’s GP Service

This service funds the travel of female general practitioners (GPs) to eligible communities in all states and the Northern Territory to conduct general practice clinics. This enables women to consult a female GP about a range of issues, although the service is open to men and children as well. All consultations with this service are at no cost to the patient. To be eligible for this service, communities must apply to the RFDS and meet a few criteria. More information can be obtained by calling the RFDS on 02 8259 8100.

 

Rural and Regional Health Australia

The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing Rural and Regional Health Australia can provide more information about different programs through their website at www.ruralhealthaustralia.gov.au, or by calling 1800 899 538 FREE.

The National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) has also produced a series of fact sheets on rural and remote health. These can be viewed at www.ruralhealth.org.au

Sources: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Remoteness classifications), Department of Health and Ageing (Primary health care in rural and remote Australia: achieving equity of access and outcomes through national reform, Rural health services, Rural Health Services, Rural and Regional Health, National Rural and Remote Health Infrastructure Program, Rural Women’s GP Service, Visiting Optometrists Scheme), National Rural Health Alliance Inc (The way forward for rural health, The state of rural health).

 

Farm Water Safety

Keep watch at the farm dam to prevent your child from drowning. 

Visit KeepWatch for a farm water safety fact sheet and a farm water safety checklist. 

 


 

Rural Issues - Coping with Stress

People who live and work in rural and remote communities have to deal with hardships such as financial strain, social isolation, long working hours and reduced access to services. Studies show that farming communities in Australia experience mental health problems at twice the rate of the general population.

Many farming families respond to hard times by tightening the household budget and spending less on food, clothes and maintenance of equipment. They may also rely more on credit and increasing debt.

The effort of trying to provide for the family and keep the farm or business going can be intensely stressful. For a farming family in dire straits, the options may seem bleak – to struggle on is stressful, but to sell the farm and leave the industry is stressful too.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these difficulties, help is available in the form of financial support, professional mental health services and other support services.

 

Recognising Stress

Stress is the physical, mental and emotional response to a stress-causing factor or ‘stressor’. Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, or anxious.

Many people cope with a crisis or other stressful situation by focusing on the problem and putting everything else aside. For most people, this only works in the short term.

Ongoing stress can make us neglect the very things that would help us get through it, such as health, relationships and recreation. We become less able to think clearly or cope. Then problems feel worse than they are and get worse than is necessary.


Symptoms of Stress

  • Sometimes, we don’t realise how stressful life has become. Some of the signs that you may be under considerable stress are:
  • Problems with concentration or memory 
  • Lack of energy and motivation 
  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy, such as socialising or sex 
  • Sleeping problems, such as insomnia, early waking or oversleeping 
  • Changes in appetite, such as eating too little or too much, or eating unhealthy foods 
  • Mood changes, such as irritability 
  • Physical problems, such as constant headaches or stomach-aches 
  • Heart palpitations and breathlessness 
  • Longer-term general ill health.
  • Stress and depression
  • Continued chronic stress can lead to depression. Some warning signs of depression are: A constant feeling of sadness 
  • Feelings of gloom, guilt and hopelessness 
  • Pessimistic thoughts, inability to remember good times 
  • Persistent thoughts of suicide.

Causes of Stress for Rural Families

Rural Australian life is very rewarding in many ways, however, farming in particular is a stressful occupation. Some of the pressures include: Ongoing drought, flood, cyclone or extreme climatic events 

Other problems such as bushfire or locust plagues 
The ageing population of farming men and women 
The changing face of the marketplace – for example, corporatisation, globalisation and competition from foreign imports 
Economic pressures such as low income, shrinking margins, reliance on credit, increasing debt and succession planning 
Changes in land management, farming practices, new technologies and new regulations 
Long working hours and seasonal pressures for farmers, their families and agricultural workers.


The Family and the Farm

Most people experience work-related stress, no matter what their occupation. However, farming families can experience higher levels of work-related stress and respond in different ways to other people.

Farmers face a unique set of stressors, because: Most farmers could never imagine doing anything else for a living, since farming is part of their identity. 
The farm is not only the workplace, but the home too. 
The welfare of the family depends directly on the fortunes of the farm. 
Family tradition is strong, since the farm may have been in the family for generations or is something the family has aspired to have. 
The farm may be the only real investment the family has and the sole legacy for the children. 
Selling the farm would feel like a betrayal of past and future generations. 
People who farm the land tend to pride themselves on self-sufficiency and independence, so they can find asking for help difficult.
Economic impacts of hard times
The economic consequences of hard times on families living in rural areas can include: Less money spent on recreation and time off, food, clothing, education, a holiday or entertainment for the family 
Less money spent on household maintenance 
Farm equipment may not be properly maintained, which increases the risk of breakdowns and accidents 
Loss of savings 
Owing money to friends and relations 
Increased reliance on credit and personal debt 
The need for one or more family members to leave the farm and find employment somewhere else, which increases the workload of the remaining family members and diminishes support networks 
Having to put off workers or being unable to hire them 
If workers can’t be hired, children, aged parents or people visiting the farm may have to perform jobs that they are not experienced enough to do safely 
Safe work practices may be skipped in an attempt to save time or labour.

 

Effects of Stress

Some of the common hazards of ongoing stress for farming families include: Always feeling tired or depressed 
Substance abuse, such as misuse of alcohol 
Arguments or domestic violence 
Relationship breakdown 
Withdrawal and self-imposed isolation from support networks 
Difficulty in making rational decisions 
Increased risk of injury and accidents due to being distracted by worry or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs 
Suicide.

 

Stress and Family Members

Generally, family members respond to hard times in different ways, depending on their age and role in the family. The issues may include: Children of all ages are sensitive to family dynamics. Young children may have more temper tantrums, or may experience separation anxiety or bedwetting in response to stress. 
Adult children may feel despair and helplessness over the prospect of their livelihood or inheritance being taken away. They may be forced to leave the area and their support networks in order to find employment. 
Partners commonly experience guilt, because farmers may worry that poor management decisions, not external forces like drought, were the cause of their troubles. They may feel angry at the marketplace or government policies. 
Older people may fear that their dreams of a financially independent retirement will not come true, despite a lifetime of work. They may feel despondent at not being able to leave a viable farming business to their children, as had happened for them and earlier generations.

 

Coping with Stress

Research has found that many farm families don’t see stress as a health problem, but as a farm problem. This means that people are less likely to seek professional help from doctors or counsellors. There is a general feeling in rural communities that only mentally ill people go to psychologists and psychiatrists, which means that these services are not often used.

You can take positive steps to tackle your stress, depression, relationship problems and financial concerns. The key is to talk about your worries with other people. Suggestions include: Talk to your doctor. Stress and depression are health issues and your doctor can give you advice, information, treatment and referral. 
Educate yourself about stress and depression. Understanding what you are going through can help you to manage these conditions. 
Remember that you are not alone. Many support organisations offer books, CDs, DVDs and other resources that include the personal stories of Australian farmers who are battling against the same pressures. Discovering that others also experience stress and depression can reduce your feelings of isolation and helplessness. 
Seek out appropriate support services. Assistance is usually free of charge and, in some cases, support workers can come to you. 
Discuss and share problems and feelings with your family members. 
Discuss your anxieties, worries and feelings with a counsellor. They are trained to help you come up with practical solutions. Many counselling services are available over the phone. 
Make contact with other farming families in your community. Share thoughts, feelings and problems. Build a professional network. Socialising and having fun are also great ways to relieve stress. 
Eat a healthy diet. 
Take time to exercise regularly. Being fit helps your body cope with the rigours of stress, while exercise allows your body to ‘burn off’ stress chemicals like adrenaline. 
Try to organise time away from the farm to get a perspective on things and a sense of proportion. 
Talk about your financial difficulties with government organisations such as Centrelink. You may be eligible for financial help. 
Be open to changing the way you do things on the farm. Consider undergoing skills training.
Farm families pride themselves on being self-sufficient and independent, so asking for welfare (like social security payments or food parcels from charities) can be hard to do. For your own and your family’s welfare, it’s important to use the services that are there to help you.

 

Where to Get Help

beyondblue Tel. 1300 22 4636 
Department of Environment and Primary Industries Customer Service Centre Tel. 136 186 
Farmsafe Australia Tel. (02) 6752 8218 
Lifeline Tel. 13 11 14 
Mensline Australia Tel. 1300 78 99 78 
Kids Helpline Tel. 1800 55 1800 FREE 
Parentline Victoria Tel. 13 22 89 
SuicideLine Tel. 1300 651 251 
SANE Helpline Tel. 1800 18 SANE (1800 18 7263 FREE) 
Suicide Call Back Service Tel. 1300 659 467

 

Things to remember:

The effects of hardship on rural families can include stress, relationship breakdown, farming accidents and suicide. 
When money is tight, farm equipment may not be properly maintained, which increases the risk of work-related accidents. 
Chronic stress isn’t a rural or agricultural problem, it’s a health issue. Seek advice from your local doctor or health professional if you have any of the symptoms of chronic stress. 
Although farm families often find it hard to ask for assistance (like social security payments or food parcels from charities), it is important to use the services that are available.

See the Better Health Channel. Click here.

 


 

Getting Help in Rural and Regional Areas

If you live in a rural or regional area and are considering separating from your partner, you can still get access to help and advice. Distance can create extra challenges, but in many cases you may find that the information you need is just a phone call or internet search away. This video covers some of the steps you can take to find help in your area.

This video is part of the When separating series of videos.

See more at Victoria Legal Aid click here.


Payments for Rural and Remote Australians

A range of payments and services is available to support people living in rural and remote areas.

Payments and rebates for farmers
Farm Household Allowance offers help for farmers and their families experiencing financial hardship to meet basic household needs and improve their long term financial security.

Support for people living in rural and remote areas

There are a range of payments and services to help you. Read more about what payments and services are available based on your circumstances:

Families
Separated parents
Job seekers
Older Australians
Your health
People with disability
Students and trainees
Migrants, refugees and visitors
Carers
Indigenous Australians
Help in an emergency

 

Rural Call Centres

Rural Call Centres have specialist staff answer all calls made to the Farmers Assistance hotline. Call 132 316 from anywhere in Australia.

Financial Information Service

The Financial Information Service is a free, confidential service that provides education and information on financial and lifestyle issues to all Australians.

 

Social Workers

DHS has social workers to help you during difficult times by providing counselling, support and information.

Other Government and Community Support Services

There is a range of other organisations that provide support and useful information.

MoneySmart

The MoneySmart website has information to help you make the most of your money. Visit the Budget planner section on the MoneySmart website.

If you are experiencing depression, anxiety or stress, you may find it helpful to talk to somebody about your mental health. See service finders by clicking here.

The Australian Apprenticeships website provides information and resources about Australian Apprenticeships and the support available.

The australia.gov.au website connects you to information and services across Australia including support for people in rural and regional Australia.

The My skills website aims to connect students and employers with training organisations and provides information about Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) in Australia.

The Study Assist website provides information to current and prospective students about Australian Government assistance for financial tertiary study including information about subsidised fees and government loans.