Living in a rural area and its impact on your wellbeing

By Marie Duffy

When people think of living in the countryside or in a rural area, they visualise the beautiful scenery- mountains, lakes, beaches, the fresh air. The rural idyll of a slower pace of life, a friendly supportive community where everyone knows everyone.Sure what else could you want?

Don’t get me wrong, it has its perks- and having all these natural resources on your doorstep is great, but it doesn’t help you if you are in a crisis. Isolation, lack of access to services, lack of community awareness about mental health problems, a  ‘get on with it’ outlook and fear of stigma are some of the things that come with living in a rural area or small community. Although, that can be true of most places- it is particularly debilitating in a rural area.

Obviously if you live in a city like Dublin most places will be deemed rural in comparison. So I think its important for people who live in the larger towns and cities to really imagine what it would be like without your regular buses every couple of minutes, being unable to nip out to the shops, having a choice of gp’s, dentists, and medical professionals, choosing where you go to school etc.

I guess it depends on what you define as a rural area- is it somewhere outside the city centre that has loads of greenery and beautiful forests and beaches to walk along? Or is it somewhere, miles from a shop, and from any other houses, and truly in the middle of nowhere.

For me and many that I know, and others around Ireland- living in a rural area does mean beautiful scenery, and a healthy way of life.But more importantly, it also means a lack of services, isolation, lack of social activities, living miles from friends, and a feeling of being alone. Add a mental health issue to the equation, and it can be one of the worst places to live.

My local doctor’s surgery is open from 9am-1pm each day, it then opens again at 3pm and closes at 5pm. There is one doctor, and a nurse. If you need a blood test it can only be done on a Wednesday morning between 9am-11am.  If you are given a prescription you must travel to the nearest pharmacy which is 40 minutes away in Letterkenny. The nearest shop is about 6 miles away and sells basic provisions. However, if I want to do a proper food shopping in a supermarket, or buy clothes, or visit a dentist, optician etc I must travel 40 minutes by car to the nearest big town which is Letterkenny.

There are no provisions for young people in my area apart from the GAA. There is a youth club which is opened for 2 hours once a week, and it closes during the summer. It caters for 10-12 year olds. The nearest swimming pool, cinema, youth drop in centre etc is in Letterkenny- which because of the lack of transport can be difficult to access, not to mention the cost. The cost of getting a bus to Letterkenny for a child is 10 euro return, and depending on the bus driver most people over the age of about 11 are classed as adults so are charged 12 euro return.

Like anywhere else the waiting lists are long, and if you are lucky enough to access the support of a mental health professional you must travel to Letterkenny. These services are held in the local general hospital or the scary looking ancient pysc hospital. One quote I came across in an article about the effect of living in a small community has on your mental health sums up it up pretty well.

“Sometimes a city is a very safe place in terms of isolation and stigma ‘cos you’re automatically isolated in a city; everybody expects to be isolated in a city. If you’re isolated in a rural community, there’s an extra element of rejection because you almost know everyone.

To sum it up, living in a rural area can be great- but it can also be extremely difficult. Where I live is not in the great outback, or at the edge of civilisation but in a time of crisis it can seem this way. Most young people in Ireland who live outside the bigger town are in the exact same situation and it is important to take their experiences onboard.

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