The Only Organisation Supporting Disabled People in Rural Areas

Published: October 2023

Studies have shown that people living in rural areas are at a higher risk of mental illness and suicide. This is a huge cause for concern because 3.4 billion people live in rural areas worldwide. That’s 43% of the world's population.

In England alone, about 21% of residents live in rural areas, that is a 5th of the population lives in rural areas, and 5th of the population also lives with a disability. Since 2019, an alarming number of people taking their own lives has been recorded by people who live in rural areas.

Why are these alarming figures a fact in rural areas?

Conversations with respondents indicated that these people usually suffer from loneliness, rural isolation, stigma, and lack of awareness. They struggle to get the support they need when they need it because of disabilities or where they live.

They feel marginalized and excluded because there are no structures in place to connect them to the amenities and support they need. Most services they need are miles away from where they live. This has led to terrible consequences like suicide.

The report from numbers 85 and 98 of the UK Parliament Rural Mental Health document proves that the national mental health policy does not meet rural communities’ needs.

1. Concerns about successful rural-proofing

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told us that they work together “to improve the accessibility and provision of health and mental health services in rural areas”, acknowledging that DHSC was the policy lead. However, some respondents were concerned about how effectively mental health policy has been “rural proofed.” The National Rural Mental Health Forum, based in Scotland, said each government department “should take into account mental health in their decision-making” to ensure there is “mental health proofing of policy and decisions.” 

The Dorset-based social enterprise, RMHM, told us that statutory and non-statutory organisations needed support from a properly funded and accountable national body to give oversight, to help them “achieve rural inclusiveness, and ensure they ‘rural proof’ their support/ services,” and could be modelled on the NRMHF which has been “the voice” of rural Scotland.

2. Mental health service design is based on urbanisation

Much of the evidence we received highlighted concerns that NHS mental health services are often not easily accessible to rural communities. As the Centre for Rural Policy Research highlighted, such services tend to be based on a model designed for urban rather than rural population needs, with centralised services creating barriers to access. 

Gloucestershire Rural Community Council (GRCC) on behalf of Action for Communities in Rural England, said this is because “mental health services are not being sufficiently rural proofed in the development or review stage”, highlighting North Yorkshire as the county where the most statutory mental health services are “in reach” of the city of Bradford but 20–30 miles from some rural communities, making them difficult to access. 

One consequence, according to Melanie Costas, CEO of Rural Mental Health Matters, as noted in chapter 2, is that if people “do not see services in their community, they believe that they are non-existent,” engendering stoicism, self-reliance, and people presenting only in crisis. Melanie highlighted how every service from planning through to delivery must be “held accountable” to ensure they are “rurally inclusive.

As shown above, these policies are not rural-proofed which is why immediate action is necessary. To date, Rural Mental Health Matters is the only organisation that represents the rural voice for England and Wales.

Photo of a countryside scene in England, showing rolling hills and a sunny sky, with a modern farn near the frame.Image description: Photo of a countryside scene in England, showing rolling hills and a sunny sky, with a modern farm near the frame.

We do not believe that people in rural areas are hard to reach, rather we know that these organisations are failing to reach these people. And we believe that no one should be left behind because of disabilities or where they live.

Everyone should get the help and support they need when they need it and this includes people in rural areas. This is why, RMHM works closely with the national government in the UK to provide help for these people.

Supporting Rural Mental Health Matters will help bridge the gap between people in rural areas and the services they need. It is also one major way to prevent loneliness, rural isolation, stigma, and ultimately suicide.

Rural Mental Health Matters is making a big impact on society but we can't do it alone. We urgently need your support and funds because we are currently not funded by any organisation and the work to be done is tremendous. 

Work with us to ensure that nobody is left out. Together we can make a difference in the lives of people in rural areas!


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