Staying connected: a rural coastal life experience
Date: March 12, 2018
Author: KYLIE ATKINSON, Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) Coordinator
I have worked with the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) since 2013, having a short break in between to have my youngest son. I love living and working in a rural area. Although I never get to the beach as much as I’d like – I still appreciate the scenery as I travel around the region. I wanted to write to share just a bit about my journey living a rural life, and some of the things that I find most special.
After moving from the Western suburbs of Sydney to the Mid North Coast of NSW during my high school years, I fell in love with the coast. I spent these years in Old Bar, which was a great place to grow up and a beautiful place to live. To be able to walk from one side of the town to another, walk to the beach and always with friends (who remain some of my favourite people) was a great way to experience adolescence and feel safe in testing (and perhaps, sometimes pushing) the boundaries to become an independent young adult.
But, like so many of my peers, further education meant moving away from the area. Despite best efforts, the non-existence of mobile phones and social media meant that many friendships dwindled away. Yes, new ones were made, but moving away was a big step in learning how to find those friendships and connections when they didn’t occur so naturally within a small town that you shared.
Although this was a common experience within my peer group, it was still the biggest change that many of us experienced. New connections were strengthened through the support that we provided to each other in our shared poverty and diet of two-minute noodles. These connections really helped in not feeling so alone through it all. I realise now how valuable these connections were. Feeling connected to others is a key part of maintaining my own mental health and wellbeing. When circumstances change, it is important to make the effort to keep in touch, as well as form new connections and relationships.
Whilst I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to move away for University and then work, I missed so many things that rural life offered. I returned to the Mid North Coast, the Forster-Tuncurry area in 2005. This allowed me to reconnect with those things, but in returning as an adult and a mental health professional, my eyes were open to some challenges that I hadn’t been aware of before. These include:
- Access to mental health services. I was used to working in an area where a range of services were available to come to a single team that were masters of all. A kind colleague still teases me for being surprised on my first day that only one room was the ‘mental health team’ (not the entire building as I had assumed!).
- Distance between centres. So many different versions of ‘heading into town’ and the ‘main street’ (which is rarely actually called Main Street), depending on where you live. I was also surprised that I could live on the coast, and young people so close to me would go ‘hay baling’ (which I actually thought was some kind of risk-taking activity…not actually as it sounds…making hay into bales).
- Transport- what transport?
- The night life?
- Adversity- weather conditions and the impact that had on farmers, on fisherman and even on tourism. But not just the weather- the many kinds of adversity that culminate from being away from an urban centre.
Adversity doesn’t need to always be significant. Sometimes the small things build up, and in our bodies and our minds- they feel much bigger that we thought they were. But this is hard to see in the moment. But after quite a few deep breaths…and some support from my special people- I was able to see the situation with more clarity. I has this experience with a minor car accident. I had to find the humour in the work car being towed away, which has led to much amusement from my colleagues and friends also. Once again, it was the connections to others that supported me through this.
So this brings me once again to the importance of staying connected. From connections to people who help when you are feeling stressed, to connecting to your broader community, they can all help.
When you read about rural health, and rural mental health- you often hear terms like isolation, lack of services, lack of this, lack of that and while many of these are all too true- I like to also think of the benefits.
- The scenery- for me, the rivers, lakes and beaches that I drive past on a daily basis. Not quite as often, the mountains and waterfalls that border the area. We may struggle with the large number or tourists that come to our region each year as we are not used to the “traffic” on our roads, but it’s a chance for me to be grateful that so many people choose to holiday where we call home.
- I know my neighbours. We often hear the doorbell ring to offers from the neighbourhood kids to earn pocket money (we’ve had all sorts of things from car washing to horse poo for the gardens?!?!). It’s always good for a laugh, and great to know that we are connected to our community.
- Courtesy buses! The pub literally picks you up and drops you home! For free! This doesn’t often happen outside rural areas.
For me, the main point is the opportunity to stay connected. We have the chance to keep an eye on our friends, our families, our neighbours and other members of the community. If you notice a change in someone’s mood, thoughts or behaviour, or even your own- there is something you can do. Connect them or yourself, to someone who can help, who can listen, and who can provide information. Staying connected to my support people helps my mental health. The key is to get in early and ask for help when you need it.
Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP Coordinator)
Hunter New England Local Health District
If you would like to find a RAMHP Coordinator in your local area, go to www.ramhp.com.au and pop in your postcode.