This month, we’ll be talking with psychotherapist Patrick Fitzgerald about mental health, rural isolation and the problems facing modern Ireland.
Tell us about yourself and your background
My background is very diverse. From a young age, my father and uncle were farmers. I worked on the farm every summer. After I finished school, I went into computers. Following that, I did marketing, and then I did civil engineering. I began volunteering with the Samaritans and Concern before I started doing psychotherapy and I absolutely loved it. I realised that I loved helping people, and I needed to try it. Now I’m four years in and I love it.
What would be your main area of interest and experience in the caring profession so far?
So far, I’m very interested in suicide. I’m fascinated by what’s going on in someone’s brain in that situation. I am also very interested in rural isolation. With my farming background, I’m in the farming community all the time, meeting everyone. This led to my passion for helping those experiencing rural isolation.
What is rural isolation and how can it be damaging to someone’s mental health?
Rural isolation is the loneliness we see in rural communities as we move forward in a modern Ireland. Everything is getting bigger and moving into cities – rural communities are losing shops and bars. The people in rural communities have to travel to the city. This leads to the loneliness and isolation that people are feeling. This is damaging to mental health as the rural communities are not getting the same attraction and people have to travel to do what they would usually do.
Would rural isolation be something you would see as gender specific?
From my experience, more males seem to be affected. I believe women are better at talking to each other and expressing emotions. Men in the farming community, in my experience, tend to brush everything under the carpet.
What would you see as the main barriers for people in the rural community in accessing support?
The three biggest barriers are the stigma around mental health, the knowledge around mental health and the lack of services available to rural communities.
How can these problems be tackled?
We need more programmes in place. I have done work on a programme for the EU and Ireland’s rural isolation plan for 2030. It’s about funding different organisations that are going to help with the issue of rural isolation. The other thing that will help to tackle these problems is online services – which MyMind has. It’s important to roll that out for those who are unable to access a mental health centre. It is important to make a good internet infrastructure as well, as internet may not be accessible in some areas.
What can be done in the community to help those who might be experiencing rural isolation?
People in the community should look after one another. Be aware of your neighbour or your shopkeeper. It’s important for people to check on their neighbours, even to just say hi. Just check in to see how they are.
What kind of response have you gotten from communities at your talks about rural isolation?
The response I get is amazing. So many people show up and ask me about services that are available. Rural isolation is a massive area that needs to be looked at.