The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has said that the mental health of those in rural communities is being neglected.

It is urging the UK government to overhaul its mental health support for rural areas as its new report shows current provisions are insufficient for struggling countryside communities.

The report reveals that, despite rural communities facing a unique set of daily complex challenges, the NHS and current mental health services cannot provide the required level of support, the BACP said.

It said financial stress and the cost of living crisis compound pre-existing hardships and push people to breaking point.

The BACP is urging the UK government to make area-based mental health plans to reflect the specific challenges and profile of rural communities.

The association said it is absolutely vital to improve access to a wider range of psychological therapies – and suggests using the counselling workforce in primary care settings, through the Primary Care Networks in England, and within multi-disciplinary teams based within GP hubs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It also strongly advises that the UK government provides appropriate funding for third sector specialist services.

Challenges for rural communities

Director of professional standards, policy and research at BACP, Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, said the cost of living crisis has greatly impacted rural communities.

“The cost of living crisis has greatly impacted rural communities. Farmers face numerous unique mental health challenges due to closures from disease, bad weather, reduced government support, and post-Brexit funding issues,” she said.

“Rising input costs worsen their situation and government is often perceived as lacking understanding of external market forces and their effect on the farming sector – which fuels the belief that farmers are being neglected.

“The current government funding support available for rural areas is much lower per head than for their urban counterparts – so public services in these areas suffer and the communities who rely on them are greatly disadvantaged by location.”

Morrison Coulthard said the lack of available or accessible NHS services in some rural areas has also meant that third sector organisations often “pick up the tab” for underinvestment.

“Governments across the UK must address the different needs of countryside communities, and provide essential bespoke support,” she said.

“Economic and environmental challenges have meant that access to mental health support in countryside communities is inconsistent and often compounded due to delayed accessing of support until it reaches crisis point.”

Director of therapy and training at Red Umbrella, Nathan Shearman, said: “People in rural areas can be hardy and stoic, but they’re also vulnerable and open to receiving help – when it’s done right.

“Our experience of providing counselling to farmers in remote areas shows that if you’re prepared to take services to the people who need them, they will engage. We’ve literally saved lives operating this way and have shown it can be done”.