Social networks and mental health among a farming population

  • Helen J. StainEmail author
  • Brian Kelly
  • Terry J. Lewin
  • Nick Higginbotham
  • John R. Beard
  • Fleur Hourihan



The study investigated the associations between mental health and measures of community support, social support networks, sense of place, adversity, and perceived problems in a rural Australian population. There was a specific focus on farming communities due to previous qualitative research by the authors indicating distress by farmers in response to drought (Sartore et al. Aust Fam Phys 36(12), 990–993, 2007).


A survey was mailed to adults randomly selected from the Australian Electoral Roll and residing within four local government areas (LGAs) of varying remoteness in rural New South Wales (NSW). Survey measures included: support networks and community attachment; recent stressors (including drought-related stress); and measures of health and related functioning. The Kessler-10 provided an index of current psychological distress.


The sample (n = 449; response rate 24%) was predominantly female (58.4%) and 18.9% were farmers or farm workers. Moderate to very high psychological distress was reported for 20.7% of the sample. Half (56.1%) of all respondents, and specifically 71.8% of farmers or farm workers, reported high levels of perceived stress due to drought. Psychological distress was associated with recent adverse life events, increased alcohol use and functional impairment. Hierarchical regression analysis demonstrated an independent effect of the number of stressful life events including drought related stress, perceived social support (community and individual), alcohol use and physical functioning ability on levels of psychological distress. This model accounted for 43% of the variance in current levels of distress. Lower community support had a more marked impact on distress levels for non-farming than farming participants.


This study has highlighted the association between unique rural community characteristics and rural stressors (such as drought) and measures of mental health, suggesting the important mediating role of social factors and community characteristics. The results illustrate the importance of addressing subgroup differences in the role of social capital in mental health.


social connection rural mental health connectedness community 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen J. Stain
    • 1
    Email author
  • Brian Kelly
    • 1
  • Terry J. Lewin
    • 2
  • Nick Higginbotham
    • 3
  • John R. Beard
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  • Fleur Hourihan
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Rural and Remote Mental HealthUniversity of Newcastle, Bloomfield HospitalOrangeAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Brain and Mental Health ResearchUniversity of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia
  3. 3.School of Medicine and Public HealthUniversity of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  4. 4.New York Academy of MedicineNew YorkUSA
  5. 5.University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  6. 6.Southern Cross UniversityLismoreAustralia

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