Dr. Val Farmer
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Readers Respond On Rural Mental Health Concerns

October 19, 1998

In a previous column outlining mental health issues in rural communities, I requested comments from readers on what they thought I left out of my discussion. I received the following replies.

"One stress point is lack of alternatives in choice-making. For instance, there are fewer persons from whom to choose friends. There are fewer choices in purchase options - only one grocery store, one clothing store, and so on. There are fewer choices in churches.

"That one is the most stressful for us, right now. Our denomination sent us a clergy person who is a member of a splinter group with the denomination. In no way does this man represent the beliefs we hold . . . We have no alternative choices, either within our own denomination or in another that would reflect our beliefs.

"In a small town, there is so little to stimulate or nurture us. It is very, very painful to have a church that no longer means anything other than stress and frustration. In a larger place, we could join a different church in our denomination or one similar.

"Now that my husband is nearing retirement age, how I would like to move to a larger community with more people who share our interests, a community that would offer intellectual stimulation, a community that would offer a church where we could really worship, again! However, my husband will not consider a move from the community in which he has roots three generations deep." - An Iowa reader.

". . . you have outlined rather completely what I have called for years ‘the peasant mentality.’ This is a deeply shared value system that promotes egalitarianism, diffidence, modesty, sensitivity to actual or inferred censure by other members of the community, and repression of idiosyncratic behavior.

"In general this is the tendency to accept the primacy of traditional ways of thinking and acting as exhibited by the whole community and the reluctance to stick one's head above the general level of one's fellows. However, this not only works to hold aggressive personalities in check, it can also work to hold up and keep a place open in the community for passive personalities - for those who, in the big city, would quickly become outcasts and failures.

"You didn't mention the pervasive rural economic and social decline. As the perverse notion of free market morality increasingly dominates our nation and world, a morality that idolizes individualism and relentless competition, local, once distinct rural communities are losing their reason to exist . . ..

"What is the ‘hard’ part about this? Well - as one's rural community fades and crumbles and dissipates all around you, you imperceptibly and inevitably internalize all the perceived failure as your own. To avoid failure, individuals either adopt the new morality by abandoning their fellows and pursuing success on their own or by leaving the community entirely.

"There is of course a third alternative - becoming a wage earner, a service worker, a part timer, a day worker, a ‘hireling’ - remaining in the community but accepting a lower level of status and self-respect.

"In any respect, the old morality, which in spite of its restrictiveness served to sustain most member's sense of security and place, now does just the opposite. The old morality is becoming immoral and produces shame in its adherents. Self-doubt, self recrimination, anger and despair take over." - a minister from Wisconsin.

"In rural areas it is difficult to get assistance for equipment maintenance. The mechanics are located in the city, more than 20 or 30 miles away. The furnaces need checking before winter use. The refrigerator or air conditioner ‘goes out,’ etc. You call and are assured they'll be there ‘as soon as possible’ which may be days later (and following another call or more). The mileage cost is usually very high. They really don't want to come out.

"It could be a piece of farm machinery which breaks - the crop is ready. There is rain in the forecast. No one wants to come out. If a part is broken it may take days to get it.

"Rural areas do not have the benefit of police protection. You worry about fires - building, range land. It is farther to hospitals to take care of accidents, snake bites, heart attacks, strokes. Even with the roads now having addresses, 911 has difficulty locating the proper area, causing delays when moments matter. Farming is the most accident prone line of work." - A Kansas reader.

"As I see it looking back, I think life is usually what we make it by doing what we can with what life hands to us. I feel that affluent income, in some cases, is a detriment to moral living. We were too poor to carouse around so God was good to us.

"I worked with the National Farmers to try to better our own lot in rural Minnesota. I feel that farmers should do business like other parts of the economy - price our product. No other business could succeed, as farmers, paying what is asked for what we buy and accepting what the market wants to give us. [He went on to compare prices for farm products then and now.]

"But there are pluses. We were and are much together as a family. We made it together on one income. We are still on 20 acres in Clearwater County. We love country living. God is gracious - 69 years together." - a 92 year old Minnesota reader.