Alarm over state of rural New Zealanders' mental health

  • 08/10/2018

A new survey shows many rural New Zealanders are suffering in silence over mental health issues.

This week is Mental Health Awareness week, and new figures show there's growing stress and anxiety for those living in rural areas.

The State of the Rural Nation Survey, carried out by Bayer New Zealand and Country TV, found that 70 percent of rural New Zealanders have felt increased stress over the last five years.

Of those people, over half (54 percent) attributed financial pressures as the main reason, while the impact of environmental factors (i.e. droughts, flooding, hail) on people's work and livelihoods came in at a close second (49 percent).  

The survey highlighted that our younger generation (aged 18  39) were the most affected by stress and anxiety. 

A staggering 85 percent of respondents in this age bracket indicated they had felt more personal stress in the last five years - significantly more than those 55 and above at 64 percent. 

Bayer New Zealand managing director, Derek Bartlett said the survey results highlighted issues around mental health that need to be addressed.

Alarm over state of rural New Zealanders' mental health

The survey showed that those living rurally were significantly less likely than urban dwellers to consider talking to a health professional if they experienced signs of stress or anxiety.

"More than half of respondents found it difficult to talk about mental health issues," he said.

What's more, he said, 56 percent claimed they'd rather deal with things themselves, while just under half responded that the stigma associated with mental health was the reason for their discomfort in talking about it.

Mr Bartlett is concerned at the results.

"Although we've made progress in trying to move away from that stigma, it's still widely misunderstood as a weakness, especially for those living rurally. The Kiwi attitude of 'she'll be right' won't get us very far if people are neglecting the signs that they need help," he said.

Dr Lance O'Sullivan, medical innovator and former New Zealander of the Year, said he wasn't surprised by the results, having lived and worked in rural New Zealand for much of his life.

"People should know they’re not alone," says Dr Lance O'Sullivan.
"People should know they’re not alone," says Dr Lance O'Sullivan. Photo credit: Newshub

"Rural communities are often geographically isolated, which invariably means limited access to mental health resources," he said. 

"The shortage of mental health professionals across the board, makes for no quick fix, however, mental health resources are increasingly being accessed remotely via online platforms or mobile applications," said Dr O'Sullivan. 

He said anyone experiencing negative emotions or feeling isolated, should always reach out to a trusted party, whether that be someone they know or a health professional. 

"People should know they're not alone," he said.

Alarm over state of rural New Zealanders' mental health