Unveiling Mental Health Realities in Rural Areas
15 Janaury 2024
Mental health challenges extend beyond bustling cities, reaching even the quiet corners of rural life. The Dutch concept of “dorpsgek" (town mad) has long been a part of rural lore, illustrating a historical acknowledgment of mental health struggles. However, as times change, so do the dynamics of mental well-being in the countryside.
In the Netherlands, Anna Lillioja’s article in Vrij Nederland, featuring insights from writer and researcher Anne-Goaitske Breteler, sheds light on the evolving landscape of mental health in rural areas. The disappearance of neighborhood stores and schools leaves communities grappling with a lack of vocabulary to express emotions, creating a silence around mental health (Lillioja, 2023).
Breteler’s exploration reveals a poignant intergenerational transfer of traumas and the bankruptcy of family farms. The weight of failure, shame, and guilt experienced by farmers, who lose a legacy spanning generations, becomes a silent source of emotional turmoil. Despite the rural setting, industrialization, secularization, and individualization influenced how people in these areas experience and express their emotions.
As communities disintegrate and care becomes outsourced, the collective support that once defined rural life dwindles. Some individuals, burdened by the pressures of the village collective, find solace in urban migration, abandoning the historical figure of “dorpsgek” and its role as a societal scapegoat.
A notable phenomenon emerges among educated women in their thirties, who, having chosen a profession, feel the weight of village expectations. This pressure contributes to mental health issues, including issues related to pregnancy, miscarriages, postnatal depression, and societal expectations surrounding family planning.
The article also touches upon darker aspects, such as incest and inbreeding, highlighting the breadth of mental health concerns that transcend geographical boundaries. Despite societal changes, the essence of the “dorpsgek” lingers, emphasizing that mental health issues persist, challenging preconceived notions and transcending boundaries in rural areas.
Lillioja, A. (2023). Mentale problemen op het platteland; Met het hoofd op de loop. Vrij Nederland, 90-99.