Last updated: 12 Sep, 2018

A new report from VicHealth, CSIRO’s Data61 and the National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH) has revealed the toll a lack of access to opportunities and services is having on young regional Victorians’ mental wellbeing.

The research into the current and future trends impacting young rural and regional Victorians found a lack of mental health services, transport, reliable internet, education and jobs was creating a mental wellbeing gap between the city and the bush.

The data showed that the rates of deaths from suicide and self-harm among young Victorians living in the bush has risen from 11 in 100,000 in 2012 to 13 in 100,000 in 2016. The report also found that people in regional and rural communities were more likely to use alcohol, cannabis and methamphetamines than their city counterparts.

The report found:

  • Unemployment levels are higher in regional and rural Victoria (16% compared with 12%) and a lack of employment and tertiary education opportunities causes many young people to feel pressured to move to the city.
  • 1 in 5 regional households in Victoria have no access to the internet, compared to 1 in 10 urban households, meaning young regional Victorians have limited access to online education and employment opportunities and government, health and community services.
  • Those who are online are more likely to experience and witness online bullying and harassment than young people in metro areas.
  • Over 75 per cent of psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health nurses practice in metro areas.

Conversely, the report also found there were many aspects of rural and regional living that were protective to young people’s mental wellbeing, such as being involved in a community sports club and the way communities support each other through disasters like bushfires and droughts.

National Centre for Farmer Health Director Susan Brumby said it was critical that young Victorians also had access to services to maintain and improve their mental wellbeing.

“It’s distressing to see that young people in our regions aren’t getting the support they need and this lack of opportunities and services is a cause of higher rates of suicide and self-harm,” Ms Brumby said.

“This report shows there are not enough mental health professionals in the bush – the majority of psychiatrists and psychologists are city-based.

“Other issues like stigma, perceived and actual lack of confidentiality and anonymity, and services failing to understand issues facing regional and rural Victorians are all barriers to young people getting the care and support they need and deserve.”

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said while access to opportunities and services was more limited in rural communities, the positive social connections in these communities helped boost young people’s resilience.

“Having a strong social network and a sense of community can help young people get through tough times,” Ms Rechter said.

“Young people in regional and rural communities have identified one of the things they like most about their community is how people come together during difficult times like drought or fires.

“The report shows being part of a community group, like a sports club has great benefits for the health and wellbeing of young people in regional and rural communities.”

CSIRO’s Data61 Senior Research Consultant Dr Claire Naughtin said the report also highlighted the future trends impacting employment and education opportunities for young people in the bush.

“We’re seeing some big shifts in the workforce as Australia transitions to Industry 4.0, which is creating new types of jobs and skill sets and impacting access to entry-level jobs. The impacts of these changes are particularly felt for young Victorians in regional and rural areas,” Dr Naughtin said.

“The report also highlighted the importance of improving access to technology in our regional and rural communities. To participate in the digital economy and access services, education and employment opportunities and support, young people need reliable access to the internet.”

To view the full VicHealth, Data61, CSIRO and NCFH Bright Futures: Spotlight on the wellbeing of young people living in rural and regional Victoria report visit: https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/publications/bright-futures-rural-regional-report

Media Contact:

Rachel Murphy, VicHealth Senior Media Advisor on 03 9667 1319, 0435 761 732 or  rmurphy@vichealth.vic.gov.au

Chris Chelvan, CSIRO’s Data61 Communications Advisor on 02 9490 5808 or Chris.Chelvan@csiro.au