People living in rural areas have lower overall accessibility to key services including GPS, hospitals and experience poverty, isolation and mental illness according to a new report.
The finding comes from Defra’s Statistical Digest of Rural England.
Health policies and practice needs to be ‘rural-proofed’
While there is a wealth of data about the number of people coming into contact with mental health services (1,746,698 in 2013-2014 – higher than the 1,590,332 in 2012-2013) or the number of people spending time as an inpatient; there is less research into rural mental health.
Evidence that does exist seems to suggest mental health is probably better in rural areas.
However statistics show there are a number of factors specific to rural areas such as demography, access to services, social exclusion and deprivation that may contribute to stress, anxiety and depression.
Some rural occupations – including farming – have high suicide rates and those that develop mental illness in rural areas seem less likely to seek treatment compared to their urban counterparts.
The Rural Services network is concerned about the situation and said: “Firstly, what is the provision of mental health services in rural England like – and is there a ‘treatment gap’ (perceived or actual) in accessing them?
“Mental health services in England deal with a wide range of issues – from depression and psychosis conditions to drug and alcohol services and dementia.
Jessica Sellick, who has carried out research for DEFRA, said: “Significant problems remain, including access to inpatient facilities for acutely ill patients, nursing home and other provision for people with dementia, and access to crisis support in some parts of the region. What will be the impact of an ageing population on service design and delivery?
To ensure or reduce a ‘treatment gap’ in England health policies and practice should be ‘rural proofed’ to avoid any inequitable distribution of resources. Indeed this is important as mental health service policy and service provision has been characterised by a shift towards more community based care.
“Addressing any gap comes at a time when the current health care delivery system is under pressure like never before.”
In March NHS England announced it was setting up a taskforce to identify the best ways to provide people and communities with the information and support they need to develop good mental health and resilience.
The taskforce intends to break down the barriers between mental and physical health.