A mental health advocate wants the Taranaki District Health Board to focus more sharply on rural areas.
Like Minds Taranaki believes boards that serve rural provinces should assign responsibility for rural health issues to a specific board member.
Manager Gordon Hudson, of New Plymouth, says the board member could work with groups like Federated Farmers, Rural Women NZ and rural support trusts to develop plans and processes that meet the mental and physical health needs of rural communities.
Hudson said at present Waikato and South Canterbury were the only boards with a clear rural health plan.
"Wouldn't it be great if more DHBs (district health boards) and PHOs (primary health organisations) worked more closely with rural communities?"
Taranaki District Health Board chairwoman Mary Bourke said the board was intent on delivering the best health services possible as expediently as possible to everyone in the region.
Rural health was as important as any other kind of health.
She said at present the board had no plans to dedicate a member specifically to rural health, but she expected links with Taranaki's rural community would improve as primary and secondary health services became more integrated.
Taranaki was a compact region and in matters of extreme emergency most people in Taranaki were within an hour of a base hospital.
Mental health issues were "top of mind" for the board, which was working closely on them with community groups, she said.
Meanwhile, Hudson says farmers' stress is the elephant in the paddock for rural communities. The approach by chief coroner Neil MacLean to bring discussion about suicide into the open had countered the negative effects of under- funding and under-recognition of mental illness.
New Zealand had a spate of rural suicides in 2009 and 2010, there were 50 per cent more rural suicides than urban suicides and more suicides than road deaths.
He said work was still needed to reduce the stigma in the rural sector of mental illness. His organisation is encouraging farmers to learn about mental health so they can manage issues in their families or among their neighbours.
In times of severe stress or depression, only two-thirds of sufferers sought professional help, although asking for help was a strength, not a weakness.
But awareness of farmer health was improving in the wake of work by groups like the Taranaki Rural Support Trust, Federated Farmers, Ministry for Primary Industries, Rural Women NZ and Dairy NZ.
The Taranaki Rural Support Trust, established to assist farmers after an adverse weather event, was also placing an emphasis on mental health, he said.
"We've been pushing for more awareness and openness about mental health and physical health. The answer lies within communities.
"There is no health without mental health," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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