Research Rural Stigma Reduction — 12 September 2017

“Boys aren’t meant to even cry, but I can assure you I’ve seen plenty of them do it – and I’ve even been to that point myself,” Wally Newman, a farmer for over 40 years, says as he vows to do his bit to tackle the high suicide rates in rural WA.

Financial stress, remoteness, loneliness and isolation are the factors that see more people taking their own lives in the country than in metropolitan WA.


Farmers do it very tough, says WA farmer and CBH director Wally Newman. Photo: CBH

Topping a national average, suicide is the leading cause of death for West Australians aged 15-54, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In 2015 the suicide rate in the Perth metropolitan area was 13.8 per 100,000 people, compared with 19.8 per 100,000 people for the rest of the state.

Mr Newman, who is also a director at WA’s grain handling co-op CBH, has banded together with his colleagues John Hassell, Brian McAlphine and Simon Stead to tackle the sensitive issue with a series of candid and personal videos to be published on the company’s social media pages.

 In these videos, the men will talk frankly about how mental illness has impacted them, their families and communities. 
Mr Newman, a broad-acre farmer from Newdegate, said the campaign aimed to remove the stigma attached to mental illness and encourage rural people to seek support for mental distress.

“While agriculture is a great industry and our country towns have strong communities, farmers do it tough from time to time, particularly in poor seasons,” he said.

“Men in remote and rural communities are at greater risk of suicide compared with their city counterparts.”

Males account for 75 per cent of suicides in Australia, according to Lifeline.

“We developed our campaign to send a message to anyone experiencing depression or poor mental health that they are not alone, there is hope and there are people who can help,” Mr Newman said.

Nicole Cockayne, acting director at the Black Dog Institute for mental health research, said the social media series was an important opportunity to remind rural communities of the many avenues to get help.

“Many people in regional communities find it difficult to know where to turn when they, or someone they know is experiencing symptoms of mental illness,” she said.

“Geographic isolation and distance from specialist services, stigma and low mental health literacy are all barriers to help-seeking.

“We hope this campaign will further empower communities to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental illness and start meaningful conversations about living mentally healthier lives together.”

In 2016, LifeLine WA received 55,266 calls and provided education on suicide prevention to 2,666 community members.

Lifeline WA Chief Executive Lorna MacGregor said the CBH initiative, detailing the life factors leading to suicidal thoughts, was more important than ever.

“It will go a long way to remove stigma about mental illness, but will also show that suicidal thoughts can be the result of many factors, including financial distress, relationship breakdown, loneliness and isolation,” she said.

Mr Newman who admits to going through tough times himself, says the number of people in his circle who died at their own hand far outweighed the ones he lost to road crashes.

“Some of them have been very good friends and it’s near impossible to detect (that they are suicidal) because they cover it very well,” he said.

“When they get to a point of wanting to get out of this world, they defend it even more.

“You’ve got to be very observant and look out for your fellow mates.”

Mr Newman said it was important people sought communication “with anyone”.

“You’d be surprised about how many people are good listeners,” he added.

“If you do get depressed you need to reach out. Everyone is in the same boat.”

If you are experiencing mental health issues contact LifeLine WA on 13 11 14.

This piece by Jon Daly was first seen on ‘WA News’ 11 September 2017.



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