real life

The black sheep in the paddock: Why men and women in rural Australia are not OK.

When I was 10 years old, I experienced my first drought.

Dams were so dry cattle were getting stuck in them trying to get a drink of water. Foxes were fat because there were a lot of dead animals to eat. The ground was dusty. The air was dry. And my family was stressed.

Stressed because we were running a 4,000 acre property stocked with cattle and we had no food to feed them. No rain meant no grass, which meant no fat cows, which meant no money coming in because we couldn’t sell them. It also meant not much money to buy hay or dry lick (which essentially makes it possible for them to eat dead grass).

Listen to Elissa discuss rural mental health on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud:

It’s a feeling we’ve felt over and over again, every time the rain stops. And it’s a feeling that countless farming families know all too well.

Instances such as drought make people who live through it tough and resilient. They give farmers their classic ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. But they also make people put their animals and their properties ahead of their mental health. And that shouldn’t be the case.

Rural mental health is a big issue in Australia right now. But no one really knows what to say about it.

It’s the elephant in the room. Or the black sheep in the paddock.

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According to Mindframe, one in five Australians between 16 and 85 will experience a mental health disorder at some stage in their life. But the suicide rate in the bush is much higher – in cities it’s 9.9 per 100,000, in remote areas it’s 22.3 per 100,000.

Martin Laverty, Chief Executive of the Royal Flying Doctors service told the ABC last week, “Last year the Flying Doctors saw 24,500 people to provide mental health counselling, but we could double or triple that service tomorrow and still not touch the surface”. 

And sure, it’s easy to say ‘go and get help.’ But for most people in the bush getting help means travelling for an hour or three to a main town and seeing a psychologist. Or it means talking to the doctor they’ve had all their life. Or talking to a locum who changes every week because their town doesn’t have a doctor.

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These small details make getting help almost impossible. Too hard. A bit out of the way. Something, which, if you live in the city, is hard to understand.

Mental health advocates are calling for a bigger financial commitment to rural mental health from the Government in this year’s budget. And just last week Aussie Helpers launched an SMS counselling service aimed at providing people in the bush access to help. A fantastic initiative.

But what we need to remember is that it’s not always going to be right.

And sometimes, it’s okay not to be.

Listen to the full conversation about what we can do to help farmers in need on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud:

If you or someone you know is suffering call: 

Elissa Ratliff is the senior podcast producer of Mamamia Out Loud and No Filter.