Having grown up in Charters Towers, Ty is familiar with life in a rural location. Part of his interest in pursuing social work was to better understand the unique needs of rural communities. Doing his placement with Headspace in Mount Isa put him face to face with the needs of a community similar to the one he calls home.
“Working in Mount Isa, I better understood that the range of services and resources available to someone in a rural area aren’t as readily available as they are to someone in Townsville or Brisbane,” Ty says. “Resources like mental health services or family services are more easily accessible in a city. But in a remote location, where there is still a need for those services, it’s more difficult to access. The stigma associated with mental health also affects how people in rural communities access these services."
Growing up in a rural area, Ty has first-hand experience with the stigma attached to mental health issues, particularly for men and boys. “As a male growing up in my generation and area, it was not uncommon to hear comments of ‘men don’t cry’ or ‘toughen up’,” he says. “I would love to see the stigma around mental health decrease, and it is vital in order to provide the necessary care and treatment.”
The need for such services may be even greater in rural communities than in a city. Although the reported prevalence of mental illness in rural and remote Australia is similar to that of major cities, the limited access to mental health services is linked to tragic results, as rates of self-harm and suicide increase with remoteness.
People in rural and remote communities face unique stressors. These include a greater prevalence of chronic conditions and disability, poorer health, higher rates of smoking, risky drinking and illicit drug use, and fewer employment opportunities. There is also greater exposure and vulnerability to natural disasters.
Ty points out that the interconnectedness of life in rural communities can also make it difficult for young people to seek out help and to talk about their mental health. Feeling like your world is smaller than most can make it daunting to approach someone in confidence.
“You’re in a very small town, everyone knows everyone,” Ty says. “Even if you want to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, about your emotions and your struggles, it can be a bit difficult to feel comfortable doing that. People, especially young people, may not necessarily want to go to a professional because there might be a thought of ‘people don’t know this about me, I don’t want people to talk about me'."
“An increased number of mental health services in rural communities can encourage people to feel more comfortable talking to someone, as they then have the opportunity to look at all the services being offered and not simply the one doctor in the town, for example.”
JCU Social Work Student Ty Stainkey
Being from a small town himself, Ty’s passion for youth work is matched with an empathy for their situation, which gives him an advantage in approaching the role of a rural social worker.