How to deal with isolation if you live in a rural or remote area

By Dominic Fitzgerald, 25, a filmmaker and writer from rural NSW.

I've had the privilege of living in rural Australia my entire life. For 25 years and counting, Muswellbrook, in NSW, has been my home. Some of my friends and peers weren’t thrilled to live in what they thought of as a ‘middle-of-nowhere hole’, but I’ve always greatly appreciated my rural life.

Instead of wanting to leave country life behind, I’ve wanted to bring the experience of the world back to my small-town space. While I stand firm on my decision, it hasn't been the easiest of roads, and sometimes it can feel really lonely and isolating.

Here’s a few tips on how to overcome feelings of isolation and loneliness from someone who has been through it.

Dominic, the article author, stands in front of a photo wall that is branded with Muswellbrook Shire Council and film festival logos. He holds an award that says 'highly commended' and is smiling.

Dominic at a local film festival.

Know that you aren’t alone in feeling lonely

I've seen many friends leap at the first opportunity to leave town after they’ve graduated from high school. Because I chose a three-hour commute to university over leaving town to live closer, the friendships that were blossoming with my new uni mates could only bloom so far. Take it from me: if you want to continue getting invited to parties, come up with a better excuse than, ‘Sorry, I’ve got to catch the only train home.’.

This resulted in me occasionally feeling disconnected – from peers and friends, and from the wider goings-on in the world around me. When you live in a rural or remote town, it’s easy to feel really separate from the larger society, so it’s common for people to feel isolated or disconnected. In fact, recent research from ReachOut shows that 65 per cent of young people living in rural and remote areas experience loneliness.

Connect over hobbies and community spaces

As small as your town can seem, it’s filled with all sorts of people who are into all kinds of activities. Connecting with your neighbours through a shared hobby is a great way to keep yourself occupied. You could join a local sports team or start up a gaming group. My hobby-turned-career is filmmaking, which has been nurtured by my local community’s film festival. I’ve met and bonded with heaps of local people there every year, and it’s even provided me with work opportunities.

One of the easiest ways to link up with locals is to hang out in community spots. I often walk down to my local basketball court and shoot hoops. On almost any afternoon, I’ll be invited to join in a friendly game by the other people playing there. More often than not, I’ll get completely pieced-up by people a decade younger than me, but it’s great fun regardless and helps me to feel connected to my community.

A GIF of Dom, the author, shooting a basketball into a hoop in a park.

The meanest 3-point shooter Muswellbrook has ever seen

Get a job

Living in a rural area might make you feel like there’s a ceiling on your career opportunities. It’s definitely true that living in the country can make it harder to find work, especially if you’re looking for an office job. I've spent the last six months slogging through a gruelling job search, and at times it’s felt really lonely. But living rurally or regionally doesn't mean it’s impossible to find work, and there are lots of things you can do to help with your job search.

  • Talk to people in your local community. It’s much easier to find a job when you’ve made connections. Talk to everyone you can, from shopkeepers to community leaders.

  • Look into hybrid or remote job opportunities. I’ve worked both hybrid and remote gigs in the past. They can be a great way to work and connect with new people without having to throw your local life out of balance.

  • Apply for research grants and government programs. Depending on where you live, there will be a whole bunch of grants and initiatives you can apply for. Search online for state and local government grants in your area. You can find them in lots of areas, from apprenticeships to visual arts, and they’re all intended to keep you happy and employed.

  • Get online. There are lots of great online resources to help you in your job hunting. Use Indeed or Seek to type in your postcode and find work near you. Create a LinkedIn profile to showcase your skills and connect with employers both near and far.

Never underestimate the internet. You can use it to find all sorts of resources and tools that will help you deal with your loneliness. Follow some rural content creators and connect with other followers in the comments. Start a Discord channel to meet people from all over who share your interests, or sign up to the ReachOut Online Community to connect with other young people who are going through similar things to you.

Almost every township has a Facebook community group, which is guaranteed to be overflowing with news and updates about your town. Plus, you’ll get the added bonus of Facebook boomers providing often funny (and sometimes unhinged) rants about whatever’s going on in town … if you’re into that sort of thing.

Don’t be afraid to seek help

Sometimes you may still feel cut off from the world even if there are people close to you who you can talk to. It’s easy to forget to reach out and ask for help when you need it.

Living in a rural area might make you feel isolated and alone, but never forget that there are always people available to talk with you. Your family and friends (whether they live rurally with you or elsewhere) likely have similar experiences – or, if you’re really feeling stuck, ring the kind people at a helpline to have a chat. You can call:

Speaking with someone from a helpline can help you feel less alone, and they can point you towards where to get additional support. Best of all, these services are accessible to everyone, no matter where you live.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to someone in your town who is older than you and who you trust – they’ve probably been through these same challenges themselves.