Fighting back as the black dog continues to roam across rural Australia

REACHING OUT: Brian Duff, Dr Di Gill and Bob Davidson speaking at a LikeMind event on Thursday. Photo: MAX STAINKAMPH 0914MSlikemind1
REACHING OUT: Brian Duff, Dr Di Gill and Bob Davidson speaking at a LikeMind event on Thursday. Photo: MAX STAINKAMPH 0914MSlikemind1

THE stigma of mental illness in rural communities is diminishing, but not at the rate it could be, according to a mental health expert.

Rates of suicide in regional NSW are almost double that of Sydney, and Rural Adversity Mental Health Program coordinator for Western NSW Dr Di Gill said some of the traditional barriers to preventing loss of life in the country were proving hard to overcome.

“Historically, farmers and rural people have been very independent,” Dr Gill said. 

“This culture of not talking about personal matters outside of the family goes back decades.

“There’s that macho pressure that farmers have to look tough, farmers are stereotypically strong and masculine.

“A lot of farmers still hold that image.”

One man who experienced that stigma first-hand was Brian Duff, who now runs support groups for people with mental illness in Cowra.

Mr Duff spent several years battling with paranoid schizophrenia before finding medication to manage it.

He said any groups or recognised days and events which raise awareness of mental illness were worth preserving.

“The stigma is still out there, especially in some of the smaller towns and villages,” he said.

“Things like R U OK? Day are really important to raise awareness of it.”

NSW accounts for nearly a third of suicides in Australia.

An average of 8.3 Australians take their own life daily, 76 percent of whom are men.

Dr Gill says technological advancements often meant increased isolation for those in rural and farming communities, making identifying and treating mental illness harder.

“Distance does make treating mental illness more difficult,” she said.

“It becomes difficult to make it to info sessions,  and difficult to talk to specialists.”

Economic pressures also contribute to mental illnesses in rural areas, particularly anxiety and depression.

Dr Gill said those economic pressures go beyond the typical hardships faced during droughts.

“Farming and regional life used to be a lifestyle, now it’s a business,” Dr Gill said. 

“You have to buy and sell produce and stock yourself, you have to be online, you need to – for example – tag your sheep,” she said.

“You have to do all these things that farmers didn’t have to do 20 or 30 years ago.”

If you need to talk to someone, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.