Understanding the Mental Health of Rural Young Adults: Risk and Protective Factors
Objective: Psychological distress is a serious concern for all young people, with an estimated one in four young Australians living with a mental disorder. In rural communities young adults may face greater challenges in addressing mental health concerns than their urban counterparts with factors such as social stigma, limited availability of services, problems recognising symptoms, and confidentiality concerns being significant barriers. Addressing the determinants of young people's mental health is crucial if they are to fulfil their potential and contribute fully in their communities. This presentation will describe risk and protective factors for psychological distress among young rural adults.
Methods: Data from the Australian Rural Mental Health Study were analysed, with young adults aged 18-35 completing four surveys about mental health and wellbeing over a period of five years. Predictors of psychological distress for young rural adults were determined using generalised linear mixed models.
Results: For respondents aged 18-35 years, the strongest predictor of psychological distress across the five years of data collection was unemployment, with findings suggesting that this was independent from its economic value. Unemployment increased the odds of distress 12-fold even after controlling for key correlates including financial position, gender, and relationship status. Key protective factors included social support, sense of community and level of social involvement, while increased alcohol use was a risk factor for distress.
Conclusion: Opportunities for rural young people to connect formally and informally with their community are crucial to mental health. Supporting improved mental health is not exclusively the domain of specialised clinical and community-based mental health services (although these services are important), but also that of the diverse sporting, social, cultural, educational, religious, and vocational groups that operate within rural communities. This highlights the importance of holistic and integrated approaches to promoting mental health.