Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Depression hurts, wherever you happen to live

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The Facebook post by a woman who lives in my community was hauntingly honest last week on the day devoted to getting people to talk about mental illness.

"Yes, I have shared every possible link to Bell Let's Talk Day. I suffer from depression myself so it is important to me," the posting began.

"I am very shy and usually just convinced that no one would want to talk to me. I may smile at you as you pass, but if you don't initiate conversation I probably won't make any either. Some days I can act like everything is OK, but it is an act, every time. Other days I can't act so I don't go out."

Knowing your neighbours is one of the smugly touted attributes of rural living. People who think they know this individual would describe her as vibrant, confident and fully engaged in life. Reading how she experiences life came as a shock.

But stories like this one underscore a new rural reality. People may know each other's names, what they do for a living and enough to exchange casual greetings at the post office or grocery store, but it's becoming less likely they know how well they are -- really.

The reasons are many. People are busier and travelling farther afield than they used to, which means they are less likely to interact in community organizations. Community groups serve dual functions, providing volunteer services necessary to keep the community running, but also to meet the social needs of members.

Rural communities, stereotypically bastions of moral support -- places where neighbours show up with casseroles when someone is injured, physically ill or a new baby arrives -- can be just as guilty of avoiding an open discussion of mental-health issues. If you can't see the source of someone's pain, somehow it becomes less real and more easily dismissed.

As one of the speakers at the recent Ag Days in Brandon pointed out, occupations such as farming are also noted for attracting rugged individualists. Entrepreneurial independence that goes with running your own business is one thing; solitary confinement in an isolated area is another. The fact people know you can actually be a barrier to seeking help.

Recognizing when someone has crossed over into darker territory is a challenge, not only for family, friends and neighbours, but for those offering resources through agencies such as the Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services.

Michael Rosmann is an Iowa-based farmer and psychologist who has researched what makes farmers tick.

His main point for farmers at Ag Days was to become more self-aware of their tendencies toward overwork and withdrawal during times of adversity and to adjust their behaviour accordingly.

"Behaviour is like a recipe, with ingredients that can be varied to maximize our well-being, such as what we consume, how much and how hard we work, sleep, recreate, pray, laugh, talk and so forth," he said in a Manitoba Co-operator report.

Thankfully, this year's speaker was only the latest of a series of events built around helping rural people recognize the symptoms of illnesses such as stress and depression and how to help those afflicted get help.

The woman who opened up to her connections on Facebook isn't alone. Far from it.

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 204-792-4382 or by email: laura@fbcpublishing.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 B8

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