A positive attitude towards mental health could impact the rate of suicide in small rural towns, a research team from Monash Rural Health has found.
Looking at why rates of suicide differ in rural areas across Victoria, the team has published research pointing to social cohesion.
It suggests a town’s access to health services, public transport and youth activities does not alone explain the varying rates of suicide throughout rural Australia.
Co-author and Monash Rural Health senior research fellow Bernadette Ward said instead, perceptions of community connectedness and safety appeared to make the difference.
“Things like people’s attitudes towards mental health, participating in the community… and social support and cohesion seem to make a difference,” Dr Ward said.
“So too do people’s perceptions of safety; where there were lower levels of perceptions of safety, there were higher levels of suicide.”
The team focused on four rural Victorian towns with a population between 3000 and 7000 people, that identified as having either high or low rates of suicide.
The researchers then interviewed 17 mental health professionals based in the chosen towns, and found those with lower rates were able to adapt to the changing needs of their community.
“In small rural areas, mental health and suicide risk are not just the responsibility of the individual,” Dr Ward said.
“They are actually things small communities can do something about.
“Improved access to service does make a big difference, but we also know that small communities can do a lot.”
Lifeline Gippsland chief executive Claire Davis agreed.
She said this research “would most definitely be applicable in the Valley”, as statistics showed Latrobe Valley had higher suicide mortality rates than other areas in Victoria.
Lifeline Gippsland, together with other mental health services, works closely with the community to train people to identify when friends, relatives and co-workers were feeling depressed or suicidal.
This training also focuses on starting conversations, which Ms Davis said made “it normal to talk about mental illness and challenge stigma that still exists”.
“Feeling that you are part of a community with people who you trust and can turn to in difficult times can help immensely,” Ms Davis said.
“It really is about playing an active, positive role in the local community, being educated about how you can support those around you and what services and resources are available.
“We all have a responsibility to bring down suicide rates in the Latrobe Valley.”
Dr Ward said primary health networks would now use the research to inform strategies that aim to improve rural health outcomes.
‘Compositional, Contextual, and Collective Community Factors in Mental Health and Well-Being in Australian Rural Communities’ is available for free download.
For more information about the research, published in ‘Qualitative Health Research’, phone Bernadette Ward on 5440 9064 or email email@example.com
*If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know, there is help available.
Phone Lifeline on 13 11 14; Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 or MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978.