Liam Hill, External Affairs Officer, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

Money, mental health and the urban-rural divide

7 March 2023

You might live in a big city or tiny hamlet, but how can where you live affect your money and mental health?

This blog will focus on how members of our Research Community experience the urban-rural divide – and what people’s experiences can tell us about levelling up across the UK.

Escape to the country?

Where we live shapes how we live and how we spend our time. While some of us love the bustle and activity of big cities, lots of people crave the calm and quiet of the suburbs or the countryside.

Money and mental health factor into this in so many ways. There’s strong evidence showing that nature and green space have a major positive effect on our mental wellbeing. Some people with mental health problems can experience sensory overload in really busy, urban areas. 

“Advice services are all based within the city, but I cannot go into the busy city centre because of my mental health.” Expert by experience

Where we live can affect our employment opportunities and earnings, but also the quality of the services we receive and how easy they are to access. That could be financial services like bank branches, ATMs or debt advice centres; health services like your local GP or counselling; or community-based activities that offer the support and companionship people need to get through the week.

An urban-rural Catch-22

Last year, we asked people about the impact of living in a rural or an urban area had on their mental health and finances. 

Almost half of people living in a rural area (46%) said where they lived had a positive impact on their mental health. Meanwhile, less than a quarter (22%) of people in urban areas said the same.

When we asked about the impact of living in an urban or a rural area on people’s finances, the results flipped. 44% of people living in urban areas said where they live had a negative impact on their finances. However, that proportion rose to 56% among people living in rural areas.

When it comes to deciding where to live and what opportunities to pursue, people shouldn’t have to sacrifice mental wellbeing for financial stability.

Access to essentials

We also asked people about their access to health and financial services. 

Only 22% of respondents in urban areas disagreed that where they live has financial services that they can easily access. That figure almost doubled to 41% among people in rural areas.

“I live in a rural area and I cannot think of one service that I can access without having to travel 30 mins plus.” Expert by experience

“There are no longer any trauma services where I live. The nearest are 120 miles from my home. I lost my job because I couldn’t continue treatment. I can no longer afford to pay for treatment.” Expert by experience

While it’s true that lots of services are increasingly available online, some people with mental health problems are much better off with in-person services. For example, over half of people with mental health problems (54%) experience serious difficulties using the phone when carrying out essential admin tasks. At the same time, living in a more rural area can also mean a patchier or less reliable internet connection.

Bus or bust

It’s not just the lack of accessible services nearby that can make living in a rural area more of a challenge for people with mental health problems. It’s transport, too. In our survey, just 21% of people in rural areas agreed that their community has regular and affordable public transport, compared to 51% in urban areas.

Being reliant on a car, which can break down, or on infrequent public transport, can make some basic services much more difficult to access. Some of those services can be vital to our mental or financial wellbeing. Crucially, it can also make people feel cut off from friends, shops and community activities that enrich our lives and improve our mental health in the first place.

“Lost my car last week (couldn’t afford repairs needed to get it through its MOT so had to scrap it) so travel is now almost impossible.”  Expert by experience

“I don’t drive and live in a village – the local bus service is pretty bad and can be unreliable.” Expert by experience

It’s vital that governments across the UK level up the provision and regularity of public transport. They should also broaden the categories of disabled people entitled to free or discounted travel to include more people with a diagnosed mental health problem.

Levelling up

Addressing the imbalances in the UK economy should be about closing the gap between regions, but also within them.

There is no levelling up without addressing barriers facing people with mental health problems.