As key meeting places in rural areas, saleyards can provide a wonderful forum for people to meet and potentially start conversations about the particular mental health challenges their communities face.
That’s why ALMA chairman Steve Loan said the presentation from Trevor Hazell, who oversees the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program, was “…one of the most important speeches we’ve ever had at a conference”.
Mr Loan said his community of Coonabarabran, NSW, had struggled with five known related deaths by suicide following the area’s “devastating” bushfires in 2013, on top of drought.
Mr Hazell said Local Land Services in NSW had engaged the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, based at Orange NSW, to develop a program for its staff members.
Mr Hazell and his team worked with the services to develop a two-tier training program.
The first tier is for staff who don’t necessarily need to have difficult conversations with farmers but need information about what mental health illness looks like and how you might help them by finding support services.
The second tier of training is for staff more likely to have difficult conversations with farmers, so it might be those working through farmers’ compliance responsibilities or those advising farmers on future planting or grazing.
Mr Hazell said the three-hour session went into more details on ways to deal with those situations, including the communication skills to deliver bad news and how to listen to the reaction and not just step back.
He said bad reactions were usually “loaded up” with other stressors. Mr Hazell said participants were trained in how to connect people to support services and encouraging them to share their burdens with family and friends.
In most cases, that included getting someone to see a GP and in more urgent situations, calling state emergency mental health numbers or 000. “In some parts of rural Australia there’s no access to mental health services, so our staff try to make themselves available to overcome that lack of service provision.”
Mr Hazell said the program in NSW had worked with AMLA to advertise availability of the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program training.