STAY ACTIVE: Beyondblue founder, Jeff Kennett, says it's important to have an appreciation for the gift of life, and a discipline to stay physically and mentally healthy. Photo source: Queensland Country Life

STAY ACTIVE: Beyondblue founder, Jeff Kennett, says it’s important to have an appreciation for the gift of life, and a discipline to stay physically and mentally healthy. Photo source: Queensland Country Life

WHEN it comes to mental health, the most important thing you can do is to have discipline for dealing with the things that upset you, according to beyondblue founder and chairman, Jeff Kennett.

The former Victorian premier addressed the topic of mental illness at Hort Connections 2017 in Adelaide last week, using his time behind the microphone to encourage those in the audience to take a life self assessment.

“While we think it’s up to governments to provide, the increasing expectation placed on us is that it’s up to us,” he said.

“If we wait for the government we may be waiting a long time and they’ll probably mess it up anyway.”

Mr Kennett said he was increasingly concerned about the mental health of the young in regional areas, particularly those with high unemployment.

“People won’t seek help and farmers are worse than most,” he said.

“In most cases, early detection of mental illnesses will help remove that burr from under your saddle.”

Mr Kennett will retire from his role on June 30 after 17 years in the job. The self-confessed non-expert and “informed layperson” said he’d learnt plenty about mental illness but regretted that the suicide rate was still so high.

Mr Kennett said he had personally taken on the routine of ranking things against the gift of life.

We don’t appreciate the gift of life. We assume it’s going to go on forever. – Jeff Kennett, founder, beyondblue

“We don’t appreciate the gift of life. We assume it’s going to go on forever,” he said.

He said anxiety eats away at a person.

“Some of you will go to bed without addressing something and you’ll toss and turn as if you’ve never slept,” he said.

“The most important thing today is my own condition. I can’t discharge my responsibilities to my various roles unless I am in good health.

“Do you believe that you are in a good place mentally and physically? You owe it to yourself to get there.”

Mr Kennett’s address was followed by a panel session featuring Wimmera Uniting Care’s Rural and Remote Engagement (RARE) program worker, Mal Coutts; Young Potato People founder, Stu Jennings; and South Australian president of the Country Women’s Association, Linda Bertram.

A reoccurring theme throughout the discussion was the challenge of isolation within some farming communities.

“Even though farming is often thought of as a very physical activity, a lot of it is done in the tractor now, so a lot of the time you are isolated from other people,” Mr Jennings said.

Ms Bertram said living on the land during a drought can be the most trying time, particularly for males who feel it is their responsibility to keep things going.

She said her particular community had suffered four suicides within a few years.  

Mr Coutts said it was important to acknowledge the effect mental illness can have on those around the sufferer.

“The wives and children suffer as much as the children,” he said.

“The people walking on eggshells around the people with the problem are the ones hurting more than the people with the problem.”

All panel participants agreed communication was one of the key tools to assist in dealing with depression and anxiety.

“I think the thing is to talk to people, particularly with people on the land, farmers,” Ms Bertram said.

“After we had these suicides in our community, our men folk were much more aware and they would talk to one another.

“It’s the conversation. We need to converse more in a positive matter.”

In his address, Mr Kennett took the opportunity to attack the current and past immediate governments over having no clear agriculture policy.

“There is no doubt in my mind we have missed the boat in leadership over the last 50 years,” he said.

“I just wish we had a government which appreciated the importance of agriculture.”

He also took a swipe at social media, saying the various forms were killing people, particularly young people.

“None of us should take our mobile phones to our bedrooms at night. They should stay in a bowl in the kitchen,” he said.

Television advertisements for sports gambling were also on his radar as he suggested their presence was leading society down an uneasy path.

“Gambling promotion is going to present us with so many social issues that we won’t be able to handle it,” he said.

  • If you need help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.  

This piece was first seen on the ‘The Queensland Country Life’

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