Are you bogged mate?..

Men­tal health pro­gram for the coun­try blokes

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - NEWS - AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­

FEAR and frus­tra­tion fu­elled Dalby agri­cul­ture con­sul­tant Mary O’Brien to put pen to pa­per about her thoughts on ru­ral men­tal health.

In a heart­felt ar­ti­cle, first pub­lished in The Aus­tralia Cot­ton­grower mag­a­zine, she spoke out on the stigma and what she de­scribes as mis­matched at­tempts to solve the ru­ral health is­sue.

Her mes­sage caught wind, and last week Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­tural In­dus­try De­vel­op­ment and Fish­eries Mark Furner joined the Queens­land Farm­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion and lead­ing ru­ral men­tal health ad­vo­cates to launch the ‘Are you bogged mate?’ bridg­ing pro­gram.

The pro­gram will help sup­port peo­ple on the land seek­ing help.

“We have lost a few good blokes on the Downs, which is not un­com­mon, most ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties lose men to sui­cide,” she said.

“But I had some men call­ing and talk­ing to me about what they were feel­ing hav­ing lost their mates.

“Which I thought was good, as they were talk­ing to me, but I be­came wor­ried I would say the wrong thing. I felt un­der-skilled.”

Af­ter div­ing into sui­cide re­search Mary be­came wor­ried about the tone of ad­vice she was re­ceiv­ing.

“The re­search was high-level stuff and it was all say­ing ‘this is what’s wrong with men, this is what’s wrong with coun­try men’,” she said.

“And I thought ‘there is noth­ing wrong with coun­try men’.

“So I have gone into bat for them to say there is noth­ing wrong with ru­ral men.”

In her ar­ti­cle, Mary used the anal­ogy of get­ting bogged to sum­marise me­tal health.

“There are times when we don’t need help to get out of a bog, we can pull our­selves out,” she said.

“But when you are prop­erly bogged you will need to ask some­one to give you a tow. You will need help.

“And, you know, no one has set fire to their ve­hi­cle be­cause it got bogged.

“No one set fire to their Toy­ota or header be­cause it was bogged.

“It’s like men­tal health, there is a way out of it.”

When creat­ing the orig­i­nal ar­ti­cle, Mary called on her net­work of farm­ers to send through their bogged photos.

“I put the call out on Twit­ter. I said ‘send me the photos of your bogged ma­chines’. There were peo­ple say­ing ‘What, bogged photos in a drought?’ And I said ‘I know you have bogged photos some­where, I know you have all been stuck’.”

She de­scribes her ar­ti­cle as raw and “not po­lit­i­cally cor­rect”.

These are her words:

I SPEND a lot of time rais­ing aware­ness about spray drift but re­cent events have com­pelled me to talk about some­thing that dis­turbs me even more than spray drift.

I have spent my whole life work­ing in ru­ral and re­mote Aus­tralia and al­ways around coun­try blokes; work­ing with them, for them, and be­side them.

My fa­ther was one, my brother is one, and most of my dear­est friends are coun­try blokes.

I have al­ways worked in male dom­i­nated oc­cu­pa­tions and that cer­tainly doesn’t make me special but I be­lieve it has given me a good un­der­stand­ing of ru­ral men and it has def­i­nitely given me a deep and pro­found re­spect for them.

So when I see coun­try blokes fac­ing chal­lenges like never be­fore, I need to say some­thing be­cause I know none of them will.

I’m talk­ing about ru­ral men’s men­tal health and more specif­i­cally, ru­ral male sui­cide.

Yes, that mon­grel black dog that sneaks in when you least ex­pect it, grabs all of your ra­tio­nal thoughts, buries them some­where you can’t find them, and with­out you or those close to you notic­ing, it grad­u­ally pulls you into a hole, a bog hole.

As I re­cently watched a mas­sive line of four-wheel drives file slowly in and park rev­er­ently out­side a small coun­try town church, some­thing in my heart changed for­ever.

They emerged, dressed in their Sun­day best; some of these blokes I didn’t even know owned a tie.

It was a re­ally busy time of year but they stopped all of those im­por­tant farm jobs to come and say good­bye and pay their re­spects to a mate who de­cided to hand in his time sheet way too early.

As the min­is­ter lamented quotes from the Bi­ble about ‘a time for ev­ery­thing; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to reap’, you know the one.

All I could think was, these are farm­ers, no one knows bet­ter than this crowd about plant­ing and reap­ing but I’m stuffed if I could find any rea­son for this man to die at his own hand in the prime of his life.

And judg­ing by the faces on the coun­try men around me, neither could they. The sta­tis­tics are ev­ery­where, Aus­tralian males be­tween 15 and 45 years of age are one of the high­est risk cat­e­gories for sui­cide.

Men are three to four times more likely to take their own life than women and the fur­ther you move from the coast into re­gional, ru­ral, and re­mote Aus­tralia, the more that fig­ure climbs. Why?

Why are my coun­try heroes cash­ing in their chips early? The ex­perts will tell you that that it’s due to rea­sons like ‘the iso­la­tion’, ‘men don’t talk about emo­tions’, ‘they don’t know how to ex­press their feel­ings’... Well I call bulls**t! I don’t have a psy­chol­ogy de­gree of any kind, I’m not a doc­tor of any type, I haven’t stud­ied men­tal health at all but I do know coun­try men.

And this is what I do know... coun­try men are the tough­est, hard­est work­ing, fun­ni­est, most sin­cere, to­tally de­pend­able, thor­oughly gen­uine peo­ple you will ever meet.

So don’t sit in your univer­sity of­fice in the city and tell me that you know ru­ral men.

As a rule I don’t think ru­ral men are chal­lenged by ‘the iso­la­tion’.

I think most ac­tu­ally thrive on it, they en­joy the peace and tran­quil­lity that sur­rounds them.

They en­joy the time they spend tend­ing the earth and its crea­tures.

They are nour­ished and chal­lenged by na­ture and all its hard­ships.

Ev­ery­one needs in­ter­ac­tion with other peo­ple but iso­la­tion only re­ally be­comes a ma­jor prob­lem when cou­pled with de­pres­sion.

True: ru­ral men ‘don’t talk about emo­tions’, that’s not how they are wired and they never will be so stop ex­pect­ing it of them.

True: ru­ral men don’t ‘ex­press their feel­ings’ in the same way that in­ner city so­ci­ety ex­pects them to.

Let’s face it, ru­ral men are never go­ing to be like their soft pink-handed city coun­ter­parts (no dis­re­spect to city blokes in­tended, purely a com­par­i­son).

Coun­try blokes aren’t go­ing to join a men’s group or catch up with mates to dis­cuss their feel­ings, re­la­tion­ships, or fi­nances over a dou­ble de­caf latte at some hip­ster cafe that has kale on the menu. That’s not how they roll.

Ru­ral men let off steam (re­lease emo­tions) dif­fer­ently.

They play footy, go camp­ing, shoot­ing, fish­ing, ride horses or dirt bikes, go water ski­ing, have a few beers with mates, they might even throw a few harm­less punches with a

mate af­ter too many beers or on the footy field.

These are just some of the re­lease valves for ru­ral men and they need to be sup­ported and en­cour­aged to do what­ever it is that gives them re­lease.

Don’t let the pres­sure build up in­side.

There are mul­ti­tudes of fac­tors that lead to de­pres­sion in ru­ral men – droughts, floods, ris­ing in­put costs, fall­ing com­mod­ity prices, pres­sure from banks, fam­ily pres­sure, feel­ing com­pelled to stay on the farm etc.

To­day ru­ral men and par­tic­u­larly farm­ers have ad­di­tional pres­sures to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.

They are ex­pected to be soil sci­en­tists, agron­o­mists, hy­drol­o­gists, ac­coun­tants, me­te­o­rol­o­gists, chem­i­cal ex­perts, me­chan­ics, en­gi­neers, mar­keters, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and the list goes on.

Add to that a so­ci­ety that tells them they need to share 50% par­ent­ing of their chil­dren, sup­port their part­ner in her ca­reer, share the house­work, and all the other gen­der equal­ity stuff.

Be­fore any­one yells at me for drag­ging women back to the 1950s, I’m merely com­par­ing the dra­matic change in just one gen­er­a­tion.

Sorry fel­las, you aren’t get­ting out of clean­ing the dunny that eas­ily!

The suite of skills needed to live and work in the ru­ral sec­tor has never been greater and yet the di­vide been city and coun­try has never been big­ger.

Never be­fore has agri­cul­ture been so scorned by city dwellers who view farm­ers as en­vi­ron­men­tal van­dals and poi­sonous food pro­duc­ers.

And if all that isn’t enough pres­sure for ru­ral blokes, what about adding a sick child, the loss of a loved one or a mar­riage break­down into the equa­tion?

I don’t think we need an­other study to find out why ru­ral men are strug­gling.

Mil­lions of dol­lars are spent ev­ery year on ru­ral men’s men­tal health, there are end­less sup­port ser­vices avail­able, and yet the sui­cides keep hap­pen­ing.

I cer­tainly don’t have the an­swers but I know that most ru­ral men will not seek help or talk to some­one when they are strug­gling. I like to use analo­gies to ex­plain things so here is my spin on it.

We have all been bogged at some point. It might have been just a sticky patch of the road or pad­dock where the ve­hi­cle stopped mov­ing, you pan­icked, threw it into four-wheel drive and got out.

Maybe you needed low range, maybe you had to winch your­self out, but you got out, you got through it.

But what hap­pens when you get prop­erly bogged?

When it’s down to the run­ning boards, sit­ting on the chas­sis, you are not get­ting out of this one eas­ily – that’s the kind of bogged I mean.

So what do you do? Do you burn the ve­hi­cle? Hell no!

When you have fin­ished swear­ing, pray­ing and walk­ing around in cir­cles scratch­ing your head; you know this is as bad as it gets, you are go­ing to have to ask for help.

Oh the shame! The whole dis­trict is go­ing to be laugh­ing about it, your mates will bring it up for years (prob­a­bly ever).

You don’t want any­one to know but you have to get help. It’s a bit the same with de­pres­sion, but it’s not funny like when you get bogged in mud.

Most of the time we get our­selves through the rough patches in life but when de­pres­sion strikes, you need proper med­i­cal care to get you out of this bog hole.

The more bogged you get the harder it is to ask for help.

In your head, you will jus­tify to your­self with a mil­lion ex­cuses why you can’t or won’t ask for help.

None of those ex­cuses are

any com­fort as I watch a griev­ing widow, a young fam­ily and a whole com­mu­nity grap­ple to find an­swers and re­peat­edly ask ‘why didn’t he tell some­one?’.

You don’t want any­one to know that you aren’t cop­ing and you don’t want to talk to some coun­sel­lor that doesn’t know you, I get that.

But please, for the sake of your fam­ily and your pre­cious ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, reach out to some­body, any­body, your part­ner, your mates, or even me.

We will sup­port you. You are only bogged, it’s OK, we all get bogged but most im­por­tantly, you can def­i­nitely get out of it.

Don’t de­stroy your ve­hi­cle just be­cause you are bogged to the arse. Tell some­one you are feel­ing bogged.

If your son was strug­gling, would you want him to ask for help? I prom­ise you there is al­ways a way out of the bog hole and there are plenty of peo­ple ready to help you. Don’t choose a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion for a tem­po­rary prob­lem. We have al­ready lost too many good men.


Gavin Dal Broi, NSW.

Brett Shear­wood, New South Wales.


BOGGED SHOTS: Tris­tan Bal­dock, SA.

Rowan Hen­der, Vic­to­ria.

An­drew Sar­gent, South Aus­tralia.

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