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Mental Health in Rural Communities - How Counsellor Training Can Help

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Individuals and families living in rural Canada face a set of challenges that are often different from those encountered by their urban and suburban counterparts. The volatility of commodity prices, unpredictable weather, and mine or mill closures can all have drastic effects on rural economies and the individuals dependent on them.

Those living in rural areas can also face distinct struggles when it comes to their mental health, such as lacking access to the same resources that city-dwelling Canadians depend on. If you’re interested in becoming a counsellor, here’s how you can put your training to use supporting rural communities.

Rural Areas Are Underserved When it Comes to Mental Health Services

According to a Canadian Community Health Survey from 2002, the self-rated health of Canadians declines as they get further from the country’s urban centres—and this extends to mental health as well. In addition to lower life expectancies, elevated rates of arthritis, and higher blood pressure, rural and northern Canadians also have higher-than-average rates of major depressive disorder. One analysis of the need for services and supports in rural and northern Ontario revealed that compared to urban centres, individuals living in northern and rural areas are in greater need of psychotherapy or counselling (CAMH, 2009).

Unfortunately, many individuals in rural areas have difficulty accessing the services necessary to identify and navigate mental health issues. Mental health services in rural and northern Ontario communities, for example, are less comprehensive, available, and accessible than in urban areas (CAMH, 2009). In addition, most of rural British Columbia has a significant shortage of mental health services (Maddess, 2006).

In some cases, mental health supports might be available in nearby urban centres, but for those without adequate resources, these can be challenging to access, costly to travel to, and might present difficulties with regards to follow-up care (CAMH, 2009).

People living in rural areas often lack access to qualified mental health professionals

People living in rural areas often lack access to qualified mental health professionals

Individuals in Rural Communities Also Struggle with Stigma

Professionals with training from counselling therapist school can play an invaluable role in rural regions by working one-on-one with individuals to help them overcome the stigma associated with mental health issues, and encouraging them to challenge this stigma within their own families and communities. In addition, initiatives from organizations like 4-H Canada and Do More Agriculture have already begun to address mental health stigma among agricultural workers in rural Canada (Leader, 2018).

The reason why this is so important is that stigma is another key issue facing individuals and families living with mental health challenges in rural and northern Canada. In one survey from the University of Guelph, for example, 45% of Canadian farmers surveyed reported that they experienced high stress and 35% reported that they had depression, but 40% of respondents also told researchers they wouldn’t seek counselling due to the stigma associated with mental illness (Stefanovich, 2018).

Professionals with Counsellor Training Can Help

A 2017 report from British Columbia’s Select Standing Committee on Health outlined a number of recommendations for improving rural health in the province, highlighting the need for expanded access to mental health and counselling services.

Professionals with counsellor training can use their skills to provide support to rural communities

Professionals with counsellor training can use their skills to provide support to rural communities

Professionals with counsellor training can play an important role in filling this need, using the skills and experience they’ve gained through their education to support individuals in rural communities. However, for these counsellors, there are some important points to keep in mind. Counsellors working in a rural setting, for example, are much more likely to run into a client at the grocery store, at a community event, or in another public setting (Camilleri, Scott, Rhodes, 2016). They may also be more readily recognized throughout the community, which could lead to the counsellor feeling “always on” and scrutinized (Camilleri et al., 2016). For these reasons, counsellors working in a rural setting will often include a discussion about these issues during a first session, so clients know what to expect if ever they run into their counsellor in public (Camilleri et al., 2016). For those who choose to work in a rural setting, however, these modifications to their work can bring rewards.

Are you interested in pursuing a career as a counsellor?

Contact Rhodes Wellness College today to learn more about our Professional Counsellor Diploma program.

 

Works Cited

Canadian Mental Health Association (2009 Aug). Rural and Northern Community Issues in Mental Health. Retrieved from https://ontario.cmha.ca/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/cmha_on_rural_northern_mental_health_issues_20090827.pdf

Camilleri, C., Scott, R., & Rhodes, L. (2016) When everyone knows everyone [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://bc-counsellors.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/When-Everyone-Knows-Everyone-Carolyn-Camilleri-Spring-2016.pdf

Leader, M.S. (2018 Nov 22). Canadian agriculture moves to lift stigma of mental health talk. Retrieved from https://www.fcc-fac.ca/en/ag-knowledge/knowledge/canadian-agriculture-moves-to-lift-stigma-of-mental-health-talk.html

Maddess, R.J. (2006 May). Mental Health Care in Rural British Columbia. BC Medical Journal, 48(4), 172-173. Retrieved from https://www.bcmj.org/articles/mental-health-care-rural-british-columbia

Select Standing Committee on Health (2017 Mar). Looking Forward: Improving Rural Health Care, Primary Care, and Addiction Recovery Programs. Retrieved from https://www.leg.bc.ca/content/CommitteeDocuments/40th-parliament/6th-session/health/Health_20170301_Report_LookingForward.pdf

Stefanovich, O. (2018, Jan 26). ‘They need us right now’: New mental-health foundation aims to help struggling farmers. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/rural-mental-health-foundation-1.4504365