Welcome to this training, which is part of the international Rural Mental Health project. The training is jointly created by the Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (DIAK), Finland and Merseyside Expanding Horizons (MEH), UK.

To start with, we claim, that mental health and well-being in rural communities are both rather complex issues. But no need to worry! We have thought carefully, how to structure this training so it can advance your understanding of mental health in rural communities and hopefully also empower you in your actions in improving your living and work environments. All of this independently, whether you are a civic activist, mental health service user or carer, mental health or social care professional, administrator or local) politician!

According to a popular trend, we offer you three options of how to proceed in this training. As seen above, you can start – according to your preferences – either from the individual or the community; or the societal contents.

The texts are written and the videos and the research articles are compiled by the following project members: Päivi-Niiranen Linkama, PhD (Diak); Markku Salo, PhD (Diak); Joe Hemington (MEH) and Francesca Iaquinta (MEH).

We hope you’ll have the best time with Rural Mental Health Training!

The Aims of this training will be the following:

  • Increased awareness of mental well-being in different life contexts and situations
  • Increased know-how in improving individual, communal and societal well-being in rural communities
  • Increased capacities in building trust, dialogue, and co-production between different actors, like public authorities, NGO’s, farmers, artists and experts by experience
  • Getting to know the theoretical premises and basic principles of societal model of mental health

Training consists of three orientations which include nine stages all together. These focus on understanding mental health as a phenomenon and on the strategies and methods in supporting mental well-being on an individual and community levels.

You can start from one of the three orientations and proceed then to the others which order you prefer:

I Individual orientation (including four stages);

II Community orientation (including three stages);

III Societal orientation (including two stages).

The materials in this webpage consists of introductory texts, articles, slide

presentations, videos and interviews – the most important content being the reflective questions for you to connect these materials to your own life and work experiences and learning. A majority of the materials are produced by and targeted for the project.

Individual orientation consists of:

  • The biography of the person; including mental health problems and prospects for recovery
  • Understanding mental well-being as an individual and a collective resource
  • Understanding recovery as a multidimensional concept
  • Understanding mental health as active participation in rural communities

The bridge between individual and community orientation includes:

  • Sharing personal stories in peer groups
  • Participating in peer group actions
  • Enhancing personal and interpersonal recovery

Community orientation consists of:

  • Outlining basic tools and methods in supporting communal mental health: nature-based welfare & arts in mental health
  • Promoting expertise by experience
  • Battling together for positive discrimination
  • Battling against stigma

The bridge between community orientation and societal orientation includes:

  • Establishing social enterprises
  • Projects to deliver and assess services based on expertise by experience
  • Establishing the role of users in decision making bodies, etc.
  • Becoming aware of and empowering the aspirations for better well-being from individual level to the societal level
  • Connecting aspirations of individuals in their relationship to sustainability of nature
  • Understanding the role of an individual as a community actor in societal and global contexts

Explaining the concept of mental health

What is mental health – a good question, isn’t it? We seem pose that question only When we feel an inner urge to ask it. It is only when we feel ‘it’ in ourselves, or when we acknowledge ‘it’ in our nearest, or when we read about or see on television some tragic event, say an ‘insane’ mass murder in a school, that we pose the question. ‘It’ is not about mental health itself, but the lack of it. In this way, we participate in changing the framework of thought, the discourse, from mental health towards something we pose as a problem (to be controlled and conquered), that of a mental health problem, or mental distress, perhaps mental disorder, not to speak about madness. As we say in Finland, a beloved child has many names.

But then again – health – and mental health, is another matter. It is possible, or even likely, that it is not a relative of mental disorder. At the same time, mental disorder is not the same as the ‘lack of mental health’. But inside the framework of normalization, could one make this obvious mistake.

We don’t need a famous philosopher to declare that the limits of our language are the limits of our world. Some words in the world of mental health have been damaging by supporting the misunderstanding of what mental health is. ‘Re-habilitation’, ‘re-covery’, even ‘re-lapse’ are good examples of words which can lead one astray – and which show the direction along the inglorious road towards ‘normalization’. In ‘getting better’, in ‘coming to one’s full senses’, in ‘getting on to one’s track’ – there is no room for ‘going back’, returning to something that has been there previously. Only in the framework of normalization we can get back to mental health –if we understand it.

So, mental health needs to be discovered, created, constructed, invented and elaborated! We are aware that mental health, as far as we know it, is a social construction – just as mental health problems are social constructed. However, this is where the similarities end.

At this point, this is all we feel comfortable to say. After all, our task is only to give you some direction or compass-like guidance to start your journey of self-discovering mental health. Before we leave you on your very own (we’re only joking, we will naturally accompany you, having been on this hidden path before), we will share a few words on ‘rural’.

Defining the concept of ‘rural’

The concept of ‘rural’ might seem easy to define, but unfortunately it can be even more complex than the concept of mental health. So, is ‘rural’ the opposite of ‘urban’? For example, is The Central Park in New York City, with its trees and ponds, an example of the very rural inside its opposites? What about the huge national supermarket outlets in a country village, which sell the very same standardized items as in the city centers – and even disregarding better quality products of local producers? Or, what about the hundreds of thousands of people – (at least, Finns!) – shuttle from the city to the countryside and back every weekend, spending time as long as possible by the lake surrounded by still relatively clean woods and forests? After all, where does it lie, the line between urban and the country life?

Maybe it is better that we don’t have ready-made answers, nor overall solutions in promoting mental health in rural communities. One thing we are rather sure of is that there are quite a few available resources in rural communities and its natural surroundings, that are not used in promoting mental health and communal well-being. We do

hope that you can also discover new resources which we are even incapable of imagining.

So, off you go! As mentioned, you are not left alone and we are here to guide you with our questions to help you navigate on your journey.

[1]. These are quite complex issues but no need to worry – we will open up their definition at the end of these pages!

Definition of mental health

  • Awareness of mental wellbeing
  • Individual, community and societal means in achieving well-being
  • Becoming conscious of the relationship of mental health to other factors of wellbeing:

to (physical) health – there is no health without mental health

to welfare – there is no mental health without adequate means to recognition, redistribution and representation

to the current human condition – there will be no mental health without our restored (good grief, maybe we should mean) a re-invented

relationship to nature