Although the cramped hustle and bustle of city life has long been associated with higher rates of anxiety and depression, farming communities in Australia tend to suffer a similar affliction regardless of the country air, open space and natural surroundings. The stress of having an unstable income, the constant threat of losing your farm, debt, bad crop years from weather, and disease are just a few of the suspected causes.
Research by Beyond Blue shows that “the farm environment is hazardous to mental health, with farmers experiencing high rates of stress and depression”. Male farmers especially, have a particularly high rate of suicide compared to non-farming non rural males in Australia and are considered part of the high risk group.
Statistics show that on average, whether caused by economic instability or cultural influence, male farmers tend to drink more than what is considered healthy. Alcohol abuse has been strongly linked to depression.
This is not to say that the city is good for mental health. We do know that on average, city dwellers have higher rates of mental illness than their country neighbors the world over. City rates of Schizophrenia double in comparison to country life, while anxiety and mood disorders are between 20 and 40 percent higher. The human brain has evolved over millions of years to live in open spaces out of circumstance and possibly to prevent fighting, the spread of disease, and interbreeding.
A group of international scientists have provided chemical evidence behind the increased rates of schizophrenia, anxiety and depression in cities. The parts of our brain that manage stress and emotion are sensitive to overcrowding. Evidence has shown that the Amygdala (the part of the brain that controls mood and emotion) and the cingulate cortex (the part of the brain that controls stress are more active in individuals living in the city. Studies have also suggested that access to green open space reduces stress and improves mood and general well being. It is also evident that urban dwellers have a higher risk of heat attack and stroke in comparison to rural occupants.
It is clear that mental health issues are not just a city problem and not just a country problem. Whether caused by genetics, environment, or a combination of the two, it is important that we learn how to recognise when ourselves or those around us experience negative mental health symptoms and are able to obtain appropriate support.