WELLING UP OF SUPPORT: Programs are on their way to help farmers affected by drought.
WELLING UP OF SUPPORT: Programs are on their way to help farmers affected by drought. Susanna Freymark

Wave of aid on way for drought blues

A POOL of mental health services is on its way to Warwick amid mounting concern for the well-being of the Southern Downs community during drought.

Those most at risk are rural farmers aged under 35 who have lost their jobs or income, according to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Research showed this group was 12 times more likely to experience drought-related psychological stress, but they were also the least likely to seek help for depression and anxiety.

Isolation also prevented drought-affected people from accessing services.

Mental health service BeyondBlue wants to overcome those barriers with a new, free program of practical advice.

The six-session confidential NewAccess program will be available in-person or over the phone and doesn't require a visit to the doctor.

Warwick NewAccess coach Lindsay McMahon said he wanted the community to start thinking about their mental health the same way they thought about their physical health. "If you needed help rehabbing an injury or losing some weight, you'd see a personal trainer without thinking twice," he said.

"People can now look at NewsAccess coaches in the same fashion if they're struggling with the stresses of life."

The success rate is huge, with more than 63 per cent of participants in Western Queensland reporting a major reduction in their symptoms.

"Given what we're seeing with the drought and the emotional and financial turmoil it's causing, our work couldn't be more important," said Mr McMahon.

"Early intervention is the key to preventing so many mental health conditions."

At the same time, members of Southern Downs Regional Council, emergency services and local businesses are being trained to recognise the symptoms of mental illness in the community.

The council's Mental Health Resilience Plan teaches its participants, who are often the first point of call for those experiencing drought, to administer mental first aid with the same understanding and compassion they'd give to someone with a physical injury or disability.

Councillor Neil Meiklejohn said he hoped the program would remove the stigma and improve help-seeking behaviour and resilience within the community.

"We have already seen an increase in voluntary and informal mental wellness conversations as people share stories and lived experience," Cr Meiklejohn said.

Southern Downs SES volunteer Natasha Bamberry said the workshops opened her eyes to the ways mental illness was slowly damaging the community.

"Sometimes it's easy to think that someone is having a bad couple of days rather than identifying that it's part of something bigger that needs addressing," Ms Bamberry said.

"But the mental health first aid workshop showed me how to identify the signs of someone possibly developing a mental health illness, and how I can help the person who might be too afraid or ashamed to ask for that help themselves."

For more information on how to get the help you need visit www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/newaccess

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