People Aren’t Recognising Mental Illness In The Bush

"You’re not going to seek help if you don’t think you have one."

When it comes to assessing mental illness, psychologists will turn to the K10 -- a simple checklist of ten questions that measures a person’s level of distress.

The higher your score, the more likely you are to be experiencing depression or anxiety.

But researchers have found a concerning number of people in rural or remote New South Wales aren’t connecting the dots.

A study of 2500 people found one third of those with moderate to high psychological distress did not associate their symptoms with a mental health problem.

A drover with his horse in rural NSW. Image: AAP

“The most common symptoms people reported were feeling tired, nervous or that everything was an effort, along with general feelings of worthlessness,” lead author Tonelle Handley, from the University of Newcastle's Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, told ten daily.

“When we then asked those people who scored highly whether they had problems with their mental health, they said they were fine.”

Handley said the findings were “surprising” but shed light on a crucial information gap.

“It may seem illogical that people are reporting these symptoms and at the same time not acknowledging them, but it comes down to the way mental health is understood.

“People may have a certain idea of what mental illness can look like but not be aware of the symptoms it can involve.”  

Rural mental health ‘in crisis’

The burden of mental illness is felt more strongly in rural or remote Australia, where the rate of suicide is 66 percent higher than in metropolitan areas.

Farmers are twice as likely to die by suicide than other workers, with country males aged 15 to 29 twice as likely to commit suicide than the general population.

And yet rural health services are scarce, with new analysis from the National Rural Health Alliance finding there are just two psychiatrists and 25 psychologists for every 100,000 people in rural and remote Australia.

This compares to 120 psychologists available to the same amount of people in the major cities.

Handley’s research suggests the problem starts earlier.

Many respondents didn't recognise distress as symptoms of mental illness. Image: Getty

“Part of the reason they’re experiencing this burden may be because they don’t have the same knowledge or understanding,” Handley said.

“You’re not going to seek help if you don’t think or realise you have one.”

But the study noted rural people are less likely to seek help even if services are available.

Its authors are calling for a public health campaign targeting those in country areas.

“Education is a good place to start -- we need to offer people a fuller picture of mental illness and the many forms it can take,” Handley said.

“It might not be the idea that you have in your head.”

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.