AUSTRALIA loses an average of eight people a day to suicide, and over a year, suicide deaths are double that of the national road toll.
Too many people who die by suicide are from farming and grazing communities across Australia.
In an effort to support good mental health and reduce suicide rates across rural Australia, animal health company Zoetis has become a supporting partner of beyondblue, launching a campaign to help raise awareness and much needed funds. Beyondblue is an independent, not-for-profit organisation working to reduce the impact of anxiety, depression and suicide in Australia.
For every Zoetis cattle or sheep vaccine or drench sold between 1 August and 30 October, $5 will be donated to beyondblue, up to a total of $100,000.
“Our staff travel more than two million kilometres each year servicing primary producers in some of the most remote areas of Australia. They recognise the highs and lows faced by resellers and producers in regional and remote Australia,” said Zoetis general manager Lance Williams.
With rural communities facing variable seasonal conditions, ever-changing commodity prices and the tyranny of distance, the mental health of rural residents is of growing concern,” he said.
“There is not one person in our organisation who hasn’t had some exposure to mental health issues and this drives our need to ensure this campaign with beyondblue is a success.”
Although the incidence of psychological distress and symptoms of mental health conditions are similar between major cities and rural areas, suicide rates are considerably higher in regional, rural and remote areas.
In 2010-11, residents of major cities had a suicide rate of 9.4 per 100,000 people, while residents of very remote areas had a rate of 18.1. This can be attributed in part to the fact that people in regional, remote or very remote areas of Australia face more barriers to accessing health care than those living in major cities.
“Every community experiences ups and downs, but when you get another issue that arises on top of daily challenges, whether it is prolonged drought, flood or fire, the impact on many rural families is severe. The stress and anxiety can be overwhelming,” says beyondblue chair Jeff Kennett.
“If you take for instance, the challenges being faced in the dairy industry, there is great apprehension and anxiety amongst our farmers. We need to make sure they get the help they need well before they reach crisis point.”
Beyondblue aims to instil confidence in all Australians to look after their own mental health and support those around them by making anxiety, depression and suicide part of everyday conversations. As well as tackling the prejudice and discrimination which is often directed at people with mental health conditions, beyondblue works to break down the barriers that prevent people from speaking up and reaching out.
Beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman says stigma about mental illness and suicide can cause embarrassment, blame and shame, damaged relationships, social isolation and can stop people seeking help when they need it.
To help combat this, beyondblue, with funding from the Movember Foundation, has worked with the National Centre for Farmer Health and others to launch ‘The Ripple Effect’.
At www.therippleeffect.com.au farmers are helping other farmers to beat suicide.
“The Ripple Effect kick-starts healthy, safe and open discussion about the effect of suicide on the farming community through the telling of personal stories,” Ms Harman said.
People can support the Zoetis initiative by purchasing products from its range of cattle and sheep vaccines and drenches available at rural resellers. To make a donation directly to beyondblue, visit www.beyondblue.org.au/Zoetis
Beyondblue case study
Lynette and Rick Hinge live on a farm at Mundulla, South Australia, just a short drive from Victoria’s central west border.
The couple, pictured below, met through a local youth group and dated for a few years before tying the knot when Lynette was 21 and Rick was 23. “We couldn’t stay apart,” says Lynette of their early years.
It’s this bond that’s helped the couple (now in their 50s) through Rick’s bouts of mania and depression, related to his bipolar disorder.
It’s a busy life for the fifth generation farmer and the local nurse. The couple have six children aged between 16 and 30. Last year they welcomed their first grandchild. Although they’ve ‘downsized’ to a 100-acre property, the pair juggle their jobs (Rick works in community engagement for Mind Australia) with family and social commitments and tending to their cattle, sheep and lucerne seed/hay enterprises.
Rick is a high achiever, accomplished in business and farming, and plays an active role in the community. He is well most of time. When his condition surfaces, Lynette adds the role of carer to her many hats.
“When he is particularly unwell, the roles change in your relationship. All of a sudden you become a carer. You become a sole parent in a sense. You have to juggle family life and decision making, and even support with – in the past – kids’ activities, and finances. It’s particularly difficult because, in a sense, you lose your mate.”
Living in a rural area – where mental health services are scant on the ground – adds to the difficulty. Rick travels the 260 kilometres over to Adelaide every three months to check in with his psychiatrist.
“We rely on the local GP for back-up and regular visits when Rick is unwell but the psychiatrist is in Adelaide. And if he needs to be hospitalised he goes to Adelaide as well. In terms of a support group, or even a mental health nurse, there’s very little local support. In the past we have had to go Mt. Gambier (two hours south of Mundulla) and the services aren’t very regular.”
It’s a reality the pair have come to accept.
“We’ve always worked as a team together. And we’re fortunate; we have family support and community support,” says Lynette. “But it’s an illness that you don’t know how long it’s going to go for. Someone with a broken leg, you know they’re going to have a cast for so many weeks and then rehab. It’ll be over in six to eight weeks or something. But with mental illness it’s different; you don’t know how long it’s going to go for. And it’s an illness that takes you out of the community. It can become quite lonely.”
Research has shown carers are at higher risk of developing a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, and Lynette knows the importance of looking after herself.
“You have to look after yourself otherwise you risk burning out. Finding some time out to do pleasurable and relaxing things has always been important for me. I enjoy walking. Healthy eating is important too. And having someone to talk to – I find just being a little bit open leads to support and understanding. It means so much if you meet someone who’s struggling and you’re there to lift them, not judge them.”
Lynette can’t say whether people in the country are less inclined to admit when they’re struggling, but she does know this: “As long as you deny it and don’t accept it, then you can’t help yourself or anybody else.”
Her message for others is to get educated about mental health.
“Whether it’s reading a book or the information on beyondblue’s website, just get a little bit educated about it. Oftentimes, someone will be happy to seek help on behalf of somebody else but not always ready to think, ‘Oh, I might need some support myself’. There’s no shame and you don’t need to struggle alone.”
One day, Lynette and Rick look forward to seeing more of Australia. But for now, this ‘team’ is content right where they are – together, on the land they love.
“You don’t really know what the future holds,” says Lynette. “When you’re young and in love, you think that you’re going to be able to handle all sorts of things together. It can be long, hard, and difficult but we’ve had enough episodes to know that you do come out of it. You just have to ride the wave through it. And you do get better.”
For more information about anxiety, depression and suicide, please visit www.beyondblue.org.au or call the 24/7 beyondblue Support Service on 1300 22 4636.
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