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When it Comes to Rural Education, Mental Health Matters

Humans are social creatures. We spend our lives creating meaningful relationships with one another, defining ourselves through our relations with others. Your parent, his coworker, her classmate, my cousin, their grandparent, a friend.

From the beginning of humankind, we have survived through the power of community, understanding the strength in numbers and in cooperation. Despite spending considerably less time being chased by bloodthirsty predators these days, the importance of our social connections remains strong as ever. Even within the first few weeks of life, newborns display a preference towards looking at faces in comparison to non-human objects - we’re hardwired to be drawn to one another.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that support systems are such an essential component of maintaining wellbeing. Differing theories about wellbeing quote anywhere from five to ten dimensions of wellbeing, yet ‘social wellbeing’ will unfailingly appear as one of the dimensions. Support systems, which are social ties you have with others in which you gain and give support, can be found through the obvious connections of friends and family, but can also be forged through shared experiences and communities. Ultimately, support systems are defined by acts of support between people, whether it’s in the form of emotional support (love and empathy) or instrumental support (practical help - acts of kindness and assistance).

The power of a support system is vital to thrive, providing numerous benefits including:

  • Increased self-esteem

  • Sense of autonomy

  • Improved motivation

  • Strengthened ability to cope with stress

A study done by ReachOut Australia on young people living in regional and remote areas of Australia found that 42.2% were concerned about coping with stress. It also identified affordability and a desire to be ‘self-reliant’ as common barriers preventing them from accessing wellbeing services. Support systems can go a long way in helping these young rural Australians deal with stress - emotional support can encourage them to be more comfortable with reaching out to their personal networks for help, and instrumental financial support can assist in providing access to services.

A strong link between unemployment and distress in young rural adults was also reported in the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health’s research. Notably, this study complements other studies that emphasise that a sense of connectedness to one’s community, especially in rural Australian populations, can act as a protective factor for adolescents. Relationships and involvement in the wider community play a protective role in the mental health of rural young adults by reducing the likelihood of experiencing distress, providing an avenue to promote positive mental wellbeing.

In terms of education, the importance of support systems cannot be understated. A survey done by the University of Western Australia found that mental disorders were linked to student disengagement and poor attendance at school, and support is needed not only from family and friends but from the school system itself to best support students. Students need to know that they are not alone, especially in the current COVID-19 climate, where feelings of loneliness have considerably spiked amongst young people. ReachOut has identified that high school students additionally feel stressed about the uncertainty of their futures, on top of the regular stress of studies, signalled by a 250% increase of people seeking study stress resources since restrictions came in to place, compared to last year.

So when the going gets tough, especially when it’s tougher than usual, we need to do what humans do best - support one another. In particular, we need to extend this support to rural students, who need this support more than ever.

You can help empower rural students by donating to Nhuubala Yugal Education Centre, a Moree-based organisation focused on providing tutoring and other forms of support to disadvantaged students in the local area. Each donation goes a long way to supporting the education of rural students and making sure that young Australians can achieve their dreams, no matter where their place of origin.

Words by Abhirami Viju


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