Therapies — 05 October 2013

A tragedy five years ago changed Alison Fairleigh’s life forever and has led to her becoming a passionate advocate for mental health services in rural communities.

In 2008 Alison was the student services manager at an agricultural college in North Queensland when three local men in the small rural community took their own lives in the space of three weeks. Durum Wheat in Farmer's Hands

“After this experience, I was determined to gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding suicide and its impact on rural communities,” Alison said.

“I strongly believe we need better health services in rural and remote areas and we need people in urban areas to understand and care about this.”

Alison, from Ayr, has won the state Rural Women’s Award and now represents Queensland in the national awards which will be announced in Canberra on October 16.

Alison’s research has indicated that there is a great need within the Medicare Local system for administrators and health professionals, who largely have no rural background, to better understand rural people, rural communities and the needs of farmers and fishers so they can develop more effective services and programs.

Alison believes her professional development program will help address this issue. At the same time, Alison continues to be a passionate advocate for mental health in other forums and is developing her own knowledge of the issues.

“While Australia’s farmers might be world leaders in environmental and animal welfare, when it comes to looking after themselves they are not leaders at all,” says Alison.

“It is my mission to ensure that mental health is seen to be just as important as physical health.

“I want to remove the stigma attached to mental ill health and I want farmers to have that hard and often uncomfortable conversation. I want people to talk – I want people to live.”

Alison has been a team leader with the local Community Response to Eliminating Suicide (CORES) program to help educate people about suicide and its prevention. She also co-founded RuralMH, a social media platform aimed at raising awareness of mental health issues in rural communities, and the highly successful Great Cafe Challenge, a campaign aimed at closing the rural/urban divide by asking every cafe across Australia to carry at least one weekly rural newspaper. Alison currently manages mental health education programs for the Mental Illness Fellowship of North Queensland where she is the State Manager – Living Proof, Rural and Remote Services.

Alison is also an active member of Suicide Prevention Australia and a member of the Friends Advisory Committee for the National Rural Health Alliance, and hopes to bring the importance of both physical and mental health to the fore in rural communities and to represent these communities in government health policy.

The major sponsors of the award are Westpac Agribusiness (platinum), the federal Department of Agriculture (national partner) and media partners Fairfax Agricultural Media, ABC Radio and R.M.Williams Outback.

Rural women service

WITH the $10,000 state award prize, Alison will develop a pilot education program which will:

  • Provide advice to Medicare Local boards and health professionals about the barriers and enablers for rural people accessing services.
  • Provide examples of successful programs and strategies.
  • Demonstrate how to promote these services and programs to rural people.

This article first appeared on The Queensland Country Life on 5 October, 2013.


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