The Influence of Bush Identity on Attitudes to Mental Health in a Queensland Community

Article excerpt

Abstact

There are many factors that impact on mental health and the utilization of these services in the bush. The results from a three year ethnographic study in a bush community indicate that attitudes to mental health in this area of Queensland are influenced by bush identity, defined by reference to historical and current characteristics which include self-reliance, resilience, independence and stoicism. In turn, these incorporated attributes and values have a direct impact on attitudes to mental health and the willingness to seek help for problems of a psychological nature. Other aspects of bush life such as the perceived lack of confidentiality and anonymity, fear of gossip, and isolation also impact on attitudes and the utilisation of mental health resources. Stigma is a significant barrier to the recognition and acceptance of mental health issues. Mental health services, therefore, are not as readily accepted or utilised in this bush community. It can be argued that, without the acknowledgement of the impact of bush identity and culture on attitudes to mental health, many in the bush will continue to suffer in silence and deny the need for treatment.

Keywords

Bush, Bush identity, Bush culture, Mental health, Mental health services, Mental health consumers, Stigma, Isolation, Self-reliance

Received 22 June 2006 Accepted 30 May 2007

Introduction

Mental health in the bush has become issue of pressing concern in recent years. There has been an increase in stress, emotional problems, and suicide, often resulting from the increasing economic recession due to long-term drought, service withdrawal and government restructuring. The challenges faced in providing mental health support to the bush have reached a critical juncture. However, there are many barriers that affect the capacity of people in the bush to access mental health services. This article is a result of research carried out as part a PhD dissertation (McColl 2005). For the purposes of this research, the community was called 'Ruraltown'.1 The weight of evidence, supported through this research and other literature (Alston & Kent 2004; Bourke 2001; Bushy 2000; Cheers 1998; Day & Dunt 1994; Dunn 1996; Fuller, Edwards, Proctor & Moss 2000; Griffiths 1996; Gray, Lawrence & Dunn 1993; Humphreys 2000; Judd, Murray, Fraser, Humphreys, Hodgkins & Jackson 2002; O'Hehir 1995; Rolley & Humphreys 1993), suggests that there is a very strong connection between bush identity and attitudes to mental health, and that mental health status and treatment is directly influenced by bush culture and identity, with all its associated characteristics, traditions and mores.

The contention here is that many aspects of the historical Australian bush identity, popularised in the nineteenth century, persist today. While it is recognised that a number of the characteristics described in this identity are common to rural people in other lands and in Australian rural communities, the circumstances in which the bush identity was created and internalised are what make the Australian bush identity distinctive (Hodges 1982; Ker Conway 1989; Walter 1992; White 1981). The fact that Australia is historically, socially, geographically and culturally different is what makes bush identity unique. It is not only a rural identity, it is a bush identity, and it refers to those people who live and work in the pastoral industries of the Outback, the industries with which the bush identity was first associated in the nineteenth century. It is a constructed bush identity of a settler society with penal origins. Australia's original penal status was fundamental to the genesis of this identity (Alomes 1991; Colling 1992; Eddy 1991). In order to rid Australia of the convict stain, a new image and identity was procured and sought in the bush. These penal origins, the vast distances between inhabited areas and the search for a unique national identity, distinct from Britain, contributed to the cultural construction, assignment and recognition of this identity. …