Engaging rural youth

In Canada, as community size decreases, suicide rates increase12. Why is that? Some factors that may contribute to youth suicide in rural areas include cultural masculinity ideals (e.g. the expectation that young men should be self-reliant2, distance from school, economic stress and increased access to lethal means)3,4. Mental health services are also scarcer in rural communities, posing challenges for young people to get the help they need. And even when services are available, rural youth are less likely than urban youth to use them,5 perhaps due to concerns that their anonymity will not be protected in their close-knit community.

A study conducted in Eastern Ontario found that youth engagement in extracurricular activities is a protective factor against rural youth suicide4. Particularly in rural areas where youth may feel isolated from community resources, youth engagement is an important way to promote young people’s personal growth and identity, self-fulfillment and peer relationships—all factors that contribute to resiliency, well-being, and ultimately, successful youth suicide prevention and life promotion initiatives.

If your community includes rural areas, it’s important to facilitate the engagement and contributions of rural youth to your youth suicide prevention and life promotion efforts. Their knowledge of the challenges facing the community and their insights into ways to help will be invaluable to your coalition.

How can you engage rural youth?

Consider the following tips to facilitate rural youth contributions to your community’s initiative.

Do your research on the local conditions, resources and context of the area youth come from. While you’ll likely gain more information from rural youth themselves, having some familiarity with their home communities prior to engaging them may help you maximize your time and have more productive conversations around youth suicide prevention and life promotion initiatives. For example, it may be helpful to identify the mental health resources and other support services (e.g. school guidance office) available in the community.

Geographical distance is likely to pose a challenge in engaging rural youth in your community’s efforts. If young people need to travel long distances to meet you or attend events, plan ahead to cover their transportation costs or find other means of transportation (e.g. shuttle services) to facilitate that.

Another way to overcome geographical barriers may be to use technology. You can connect with rural youth via communication modalities they’re already using, such as teleconference or videoconference (e.g. Skype).




Additional resources

No Longer Alone: A Resource Manual for Rural Sexual Minority Youth and the Adults Who Serve Them provides guidance to rural social service providers who are designing, implementing and managing services for rural students.

Rural Youth: Leading Today, Tomorrow and Beyond is a report by The Ontario Rural Council (TORC) that summarizes the insights of rural youth from across Ontario on the challenges and opportunities for engaging rural youth in communities. Youth’s recommendations for action to decision-makers (e.g. employers, municipal and provincial government) are included.


  • 1. Pickett, W., King, W. D., Faelker, T., & Bienefeld, N. (1999). Suicides among Canadian farm operators. Chronic Diseases in Canada, 20, 105–110
  • 2. a. b. Winters, C. A. (2013). Rural nursing: Concepts, theory, and practice. Springer Publishing Company
  • 3. Hirsch, J. K. (2006). A review of the literature on rural suicide. Crisis, 27(4), 189-199
  • 4. a. b. Armstrong, L. L., & Manion, I. G. (2006). Suicidal ideation in young males living in rural communities: Distance from school as a risk factor, youth engagement as a protective factor. Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies, 1, 102-113
  • 5. Holzer, C.E., III, & Ciarlo, J. (2000). Mental health service utilization in rural and nonrural areas. Denver, CO: Frontier Mental Health Services Resource Network, University of Denver