Addressing mental health needs in rural communities

The Farm-Link Suicide Prevention Project is managed by the NSW Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, a major rural initiative of the University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Health and the NSW Department of Health.

Farm-Link seeks to improve the mental health and wellbeing of people who live and work on NSW farms. The suicide rate of people living in rural and remote parts of Australia has been estimated to be as much as double the national average, and Farm-Link is working hard to address this.

Project Co-ordinator Meg Perceval has a background in Medical Science and has been working with the Farm-Link project for five years. Meg is based in Inverell in NSW, and has spent most of her life living and working on a farm. She is passionate about rural Australia and continues to work towards enhancing wellbeing for people living in rural communities.

“Anybody who has worked in a rural area or with farming people for a long period of time will have been exposed to some harrowing personal stories about mental illness and suicide,” Perceval says. “The problem is ongoing and very real in the communities in which we work. Farm-Link works to connect frontline agricultural workers whose day to day work is with farmers, to mental health education and services that can aid in times of hardship. We use the best evidence and take a holistic approach that focuses on wellbeing, social connectedness, mental and physical health.”

One of Farm-Link’s areas of attention has been Mental Health First Aid courses. According to Perceval, these improve community strength and resilience in direct connection with mental health. The courses help to address stigma and encourage people towards help-seeking.

In response to local feedback, Farm-Link staff have now developed a short mental health and suicide prevention education session, SCARF, to be launched in December. The shorter program is aimed to reach more people with information about mental health and wellbeing, and particularly arm them with some suicide prevention skills. The SCARF program is about recognising when people may be doing it tough, and then having the confidence and skills to reach out and help them.

“The SCARF program has also been created with a focus on culturally appropriate messages and is not just evidence-based, but also informed by practice, and the experience of working within the field of rural suicide prevention for 5 years,” Perceval said.

Farm-Link is also busy developing suicide risk identification training for GPs. Farm-Link maintains strong rural and clinical support networks so that a collaborative approach to suicide prevention is a reality in Farm-Link sites. Active in the New England North West region of NSW, and funded until June 30, 2013, Farm-Link is creating better links between farmers and mental health services and building critical knowledge for rural suicide prevention in Australia.

For more information about Farm-Link contact Meg Perceval, Farm-Link Co-ordinator
p: 0427 072 105

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