Triggered by Penrith and The Border MP, Dr Neil Hudson, the EFRA Select Committee’s Inquiry into Rural Mental Health heard from a range of experts about suicide prevention and mental health services in rural areas.
Over two and a half hours, parliamentarians took part in an in-depth exploration of the problems, causes and needs surrounding rural mental ill health so they can better inform decision makers and ultimately provide solutions.
Witnesses included researchers, clinicians, and charity workers who raised issues such as a lack of reliable data on rural mental health, the specific rural stresses that can lead to increased suicide rates and also the barriers to mental health provision facing those in the more remote corners of the UK.
Dr Hudson, who has championed better rural mental health provisions since his maiden speech, quizzed experts on how suicide prevention training and suicide awareness can make their way into smaller businesses in the agricultural sector, be that among village veterinary practices or independent farms. The Cumbrian MP’s political journey has its roots in the Foot and Mouth Crisis of 2001, and the devastation that followed. It was during this time he saw firsthand the mental scars that are left in rural communities after shock events and the trouble people can have getting help.
Particularly moving testimony came from Dr Tim Sanders who, as well as being a Clinical Lecturer in Rural Medicine, is also a General Practitioner working in Eden. Responding to Dr Hudson’s question about how better we can support rural communities against shock factors such as storms, animal disease outbreaks and floods, Dr Sanders told attendees about a farmer who ultimately lost his flock to rapidly rising flood waters, impacting far more than just their finances.
Finishing his initial answer, Cumbrian GP Dr Tim Sanders, said: “It's only often after the waters have receded and the silt's been washed away that people draw breath and it's at that point when they need an awful lot of support, and we see a lot of people who are really struggling.”
Speaking after the event, Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and The Border, said:
“This session was as challenging as it was rewarding. It was really tough to hear some of the harrowing experiences of mental health clinicians in rural areas but equally productive knowing the information can be used to craft positive, proactive and permanent change.
“I must sound like a broken record on rural mental health but talking to and meeting with constituents on a regular basis this is clearly a huge issue that affects all of our communities across Penrith and The Border in some way. As we heard during the session, much of the problem is hard to address in small local communities where folk are well known, so hopefully by speaking out and encouraging others to do so we can normalise mental health problems in order to better deal with them.
“Of course it’s always important for me that Cumbria is spotlighted in Parliament, but it was a bittersweet moment hearing from Tim about the trauma and the anxieties experienced all too often by our rural communities. Sadly Cumbria is in the frontline when it comes to shock events such as floods or as we saw in 2001 the Foot and Mouth crisis. I am passionate about bolstering the support available for our rural Cumbrian communities to increase their already amazingly stoic resilience in the face of adversity.”
“Parity of esteem between mental and physical health is imperative if we are to help reduce the numbers of suicides in rural areas – each one an undeniable tragedy.”
Witnesses presenting evidence included Jacqui Morrissey, Assistant Director of Research and Influencing, Samaritans; Kate Miles, Charity Manager, DPJ Foundation; Professor Jim McManus, Executive Director, Public Health, Hertfordshire County Council; Sarah Connery, Chief Executive, Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust; Dr Tim Sanders, Clinical Lecturer in Rural Medicine, Royal College of General Practitioners; Dr Jaspreet Phull, Acting Medical Director, Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
A recording of the full Committee meeting is available at: www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/a945aafc-b5d0-46e2-ace9-80462328ad2b