As we celebrate another International Women’s Day it seemed fitting to catch up with organisations raising awareness for a similar cause and run predominantly by women. These ladies are working incredibly hard to promote mental health and reduce the stigma around mental illnesses, especially in farming and agriculture communities.
We caught up with Plant A Seed For Safety, Are You Bogged Mate and Ducks On The Pond about an identified distinctive concern – men’s mental health on the land. Their mental health can be troubling due to the extremely high levels of stress that come with running a place, keeping stock alive in drought and the physical tax on their bodies due to labour-intensive work. However, men operate differently from women emotionally and how they communicate their struggles. It is important to define these differences so that the women in their lives are equipped to handle these psychological hardships when they arise.
In a recent podcast from Ducks on the Pond, founder Kirsten Diprose interviewed Are you Bogged Mate founder, Mary O’Brien, going into great depth on the topic of supporting rural men and their mental health.
“Our podcast is specifically for rural women and we have done a few episodes on mental health for women, that have been really successful (one on ‘the mental load’ and another on postnatal depression). It seems chatting about mental health on the land really resonates with people. So, we just started thinking about it, in terms of men’s mental health – how can we as women best help our male family and friends if we think they’re struggling? I think many of us have at times felt frustrated or at a loss to help the men in our lives if we can see they are stressed or just not themselves, so we wanted to talk about it.”
“I think the stigma around mental health issues is stronger in the country for both men and women. I don’t know why this is, but perhaps it comes from old stoic notions of life on the land. There is a certain resilience we’re all expected to have towards the variability of the weather, running a farming business, the challenges of distance and the realities of remote life.”
Mary O’Brien began her quest for raising awareness around men’s mental health on the land when two suicides occurred in her local area within a short time frame. From this tragedy, she began her pursuit to educate rural communities on techniques for speaking with men and picking up on signs of poor mental health.
“Men tend to talk about facts not feelings, based on the facts they give you; you can sum up how their week has gone and assume the emotions. To connect to a man, it can be best to be in a vehicle as you are literally shoulder to shoulder, men communicate ‘shoulder to shoulder’. Women tend to sit in circles and look at each other, men will sit alongside a bar or a fence. Men can also open up if they are sitting around a campfire, it’s dark and less confronting”.
“Don’t be too pushy or stare them in the face to demand an answer. They feel threatened and that also goes back to a primal thing. It makes them feel uncomfortable. Women need that eye connection to feel heard, it’s just different.”
Alexandra Thomas of Plant A Seed For Safety shaped the movement #SaveALifeListenToYourWife which also champions rural women promoting health, safety and wellbeing in rural areas.
“Everyone copes with stress in different ways, however men have been conditioned to ‘man up’, bottle-up and to avoid vulnerability like the plague. It’s no secret that women are often better at expressing their emotions in healthier ways. However, some men are able to relieve stress by mindfully tinkering in the shed, playing a sport, spending time with mates, fishing or other hands-on activities.”
“Whether it’s around a campfire, in a front bar or while out doing a water run, storytelling plays a pivotal role in inspiring smarter, safer and healthier choices. With a focus on rural women as the barometers for the mental health (safety and wellbeing) of those around them, #PlantASeedForSafety uses community-led activities, a website and social media to spin yarns that put health, safety and wellbeing front of mind, and get rural lads, ladies and children home safe and well at the end of each day.”