Depression in Australia is a slow poison that can have severe consequences on one’s health if left untreated. According to the findings of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), every year 1 in every 5 Australians is likely to suffer from mental illness and 3 out of 100 develop a serious health issue.

Despite depression being such a common illness only about 38% of adult Australians resort to professional help for their mental illness. In the race to urbanise the major cities, the rural communities of Australia have been ignored. The number of people suffering from depression in rural-regions is equal to figures of urban cities; however, the lack of awareness and access to professional help puts rural farmer’s health under grave danger.

Prevalence of depression in rural areas

In the year 2009 a total of 2,132 Australians died due to suicide. Suicide is the most common outcome of severe depression.  The rate of crop growth has been overshadowed with the increase in the growth of suicide cases, plaguing the mental health of depressed farmers in Australia. It also highlights that the rate of suicide in rural areas is 1.2 to 2.4 times greater compared to the metropolitan cities.

Reasons for depression in rural Australia

With such significant differences in the number of depressed individuals prevailing in the rural region when contrasted with urban areas, one is left wondering as to what are the underlying causes for it. Australian agriculture is recently facing unprecedented conditions with respect to climate and finance, which is having adverse effects on the mental state of farmers.  Some of the key pressures that lead towards depression are as follows:

1) Losing the farm: Farmers are on the land because they love the lifestyle, so loss of farming land means a loss of identity to them. It is also a source of their income, which puts immense economical burdens on their shoulders and can eventually push them into a cycle of depression.

2) Natural disasters: Extreme weather conditions can severely impact the life of farmers, especially during floods and drought seasons. Further natural catastrophes in the form of cyclones and fire can cause permanent damage to fertile land. Farmers are left ripped of their main source of living and in extremely stressful conditions many resort to suicide or develop other health issues.

3) Farm debt: Farmers have a limited source of income, and in their struggle to make a better living for themselves they opt for debt.  Debt may also be taken for farm development and maintenance, purchase of machinery or for land expansion. Unpredictable negative farming outcomes, in the form of severe droughts leaves them financially strained.

4) Family inheritance conflicts: Emotional stress due to family conflicts also bruises the mental state of farmers especially when the issue of inheritance arises. Children or siblings may fight over the ownership of land and opt for desperate measures, which tests the emotional vulnerability of the farmer. Conversely, farmers often hope that one of their children will take over the running of the farm at some point, so when children leave regional areas for the major cities, this can be a huge disappointment for the farmer.

5) Strenuous working conditions: Small-scale farmers indulge in vigorous farming activities sometimes even under harsh weather conditions.  Such high physical activities result in physical strain, tiredness and less time for relaxation. Following such an unhealthy lifestyle over long periods of time continuously puts them under stress.

6) Social isolation: Australian farmers often become victims of technologically back-ward regions and cannot stay connected with their families abroad. With the increased level of rural-to-urban migration, the small population in rural areas are deprived of social dependency and interaction.  Lack of infrastructure and telecommunication furthers increases the gap of social isolation.

Impact of depression on rural areas

High Suicide Rate

A sufferer of constant chronic stress can be develop severe depression, and may even think about committing suicide. Australian suicide rates in rural areas have grown at an alarming rate, mainly due to lack of quality counselling centres in the area. It is better to opt for professional treatment to avoid this reversible mental illness.

Looking at some statistics reveal astonishing numbers – The AIHW Mortality Report shows that 15 to 24 year old males residing in the rural areas are 1.5-1.8 times more susceptible to end their lives with suicide compared to urban ones. The main reasons for the differences can be justified as below:

  • Lack of professional counselling centres to address individuals suffering from depression.
  • Lack of awareness of their condition or ignorance of treatment.
  • No health guidance directing towards counselling centres.
  • Rural communities mainly comprises of farmers who find seeking professional help a sign of weakness.
  • Lack of education to realise the severity of the condition of depression.

Addiction to alcohol

Unemployment, social isolation and untreated depression can force the rural population to seek short-term and harmful stress relievers. During 1990-2001, deaths resulting from over-consumption of alcohol were high in the rural region as compared to the urban cities being at 2.2 per 10,000 contrasted with 1.7.

Alcohol consumption is an extremely common practice in Australia and a survey of 2010 showed that 20% of Australians were at the risk of accident of self-injury due to over-consumption of alcohol. Due to high-level consumption of alcohol not only does the drug abuser puts his health at the risk of serious illnesses, but also endangers the lives of his loved ones. Lack of self-control and impulsive aggressive behaviour are the two main characteristics of an alcoholic, which may result in acting in a manner which you later regret.

Poor health and productivity

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) stresses that depression leads towards the loss of 135,000 person years, severely impacting their economic productivity and family relationships. Studies have shown that long-term depression can lead towards serious health issues. The cases of adolescents in rural regions suffering from depression are much higher than those of urban adolescent. Anxiety and suicide were the most common outcomes of depressive behaviour. Adolescents suffering from depression are unemployed, which directly affects the productivity rate of rural communities.

What can we do to raise the awareness of depression in Australian rural areas?

  • Raising public awareness of the impact on all Australians.
  • Initiate funded interventions and education at the school level.
  • Improvements in health system delivery in rural areas.
  • Increase campaigns related to the mental health of people in rural areas.
  • Requesting government intervention in developing more mental health care services.

If you or someone you know suffers from depression, Australia Counselling has counsellors who specialse in the treatment of depression in locations such as Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and rural areas of Australia. Visit our depression area of practice page to find a depression counsellor or psychologist near you.