Academic journal article Rural Society

Families on the Fringe: Mental Health Implications of the Movement of Young Families to Non-Metropolitan Areas

Academic journal article Rural Society

Families on the Fringe: Mental Health Implications of the Movement of Young Families to Non-Metropolitan Areas

Article excerpt


Over the last 30 years, Australia has experienced a demographic shift whereby many families, often those with young children, have been relocating in large numbers to non-metropolitan areas on the fringes of society, outside major capital cities. Many of these young families are susceptible to experiences of social exclusion once newly arrived at their destination. This frequently puts the families in an 'at risk' situation, which can then lead to feelings of non-acceptance and vulnerability (Healy & Hillman, 2008; Hillman, 2008). This situation can be particularly difficult for those who are also suffering with mental health issues, and can lead to greater forms of mental distress. This paper seeks to describe some of these situations and offer solutions to this increasing dilemma of non-metropolitan Australia.

Many newly relocating families are at a loss after their move to connect and establish informal support networks through local social events and their children's extra curricula activities. Often, these informal support networks are replaced by the formal support networks of welfare and medical providers. The hope of enhanced lifestyle of non-urban living is replaced by the families experiencing vulnerability and a lack of 'on the ground' support services.

Rural dwellers' health has been reported as of a poorer quality than urban dwellers' (Allan, Ball, & Alston, 2008; Lockie & Bourke, 2001), and where stress and anxiety are directly related to the relocation itself, this sense of distress can also be added to by other issues such as housing costs, unemployment, education, lack of accessible and affordable transport and a deficiency of other essential support networks. Many families moving away from urban centres are placed in jeopardy as they experience heightened levels of mental distress, more markedly than their city cousins.

A review of the literature is followed by a description of the study methodology. The experiences of parents and services providers in relation to mental distress and well-being are provided in the findings section followed by a discussion of the implications for policy and service provision.


Mental health and well-being in rural settings

The World Health Organization (1946) advocates for a broad definition of health inclusive of physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease. This definition has been very influential in countering the dominance of bio-medical explanations of health and highlighting the importance of well-being (Fawcett & Karban, 2005). Similarly the social model of disability/ anti-psychiatry movement has advocated for the adoption of 'mental distress' rather than the narrow, psychiatric, 'mental illness' to capture the anxiety and confusion, which is experienced to a greater or lesser degree by everyone, particularly during significant life events (Fawcett & Karban, 2005). This paper is interested in both the broader 'mental distress' and the medical diagnosis of 'mental illness'.

People living in rural settings, in general, have poorer health than their urban counterparts (Allan et al., 2008; Lockie & Bourke, 2001). This arises from a combination of factors include socioeconomic status, limited access to health services. On the heavily populated east coast of Australia, urban settings were outnumbered 4:1 by rural settings among the most disadvantaged communities (Band 1) (Vinson, 2007). Concentrations of lowincome housing have been noted in the urbanfringe and in non-metropolitan locations within commuting distance to capital cities (see Randolph & Holloway, 2005). Baum, O'Connor and Stimson (2005, p. 1) assert that a 'new geography of poverty has been emerging in Australia with heightened socio-economic disparities in the large cities, an emergence of coastal welfare regions and increased poverty in declining country towns'. Infrastructure (such as hospitals, community health, schools and transport) is often of poor and declining quality. …

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