Staff highlight with Nathan Mercurio – our Director of Programs and Operations.

The expertise to design and develop mental health education and suicide prevention training comes from knowledge but also a passion for the sector and cause. Together we advocate for those Australians that cannot access specific health professionals or for those who aren’t sure they want to get help but no doubt need to. For almost twenty years Nathan has worked on the management, design, development and implementation of health promotion programs, he joined us almost a year ago and we are lucky to have him! We lined up a Q & A with the man himself.

Nathan can you give us some background on a bit about who you are and how you fit into the RRMH team?

I’m a husband and father of 2 young children. We live in a small town in the heart of the Clare Valley, with a reputation for producing internationally renowned Riesling. I have been working for RRMH for 12 months in May 2022. I’m the Director of Program and Operations, responsible for leading and growing our mental health programs and suicide prevention interventions.

You have a passion for the remote areas we assist, how has mental illness or lack of access to mental health professionals impacted these communities?

For almost two decades I’ve held program management roles leading the design, development, implementation and management of health promotion programs and allied health services at a state and national level. I was increasingly drawn to new opportunities that focused on rural and remote communities and contribute in part to local community needs. So much so that community attitudes and cultures had an influence on my views, beliefs, values, fears, and where my wife and I want our children to grow up.

Living in a rural area has positive aspects and I find myself more interconnected than when I lived in Adelaide. Although, there are a range of challenges unique to living outside of a major city that can impact our mental health – such as fewer employment opportunities, exposure and vulnerability to natural disasters, and access to specialised health care. It’s reported that the prevalence of people experiencing mental illness in rural and remote Australia is similar to that of major cities, tragically, the rates of self-harm and suicide increase with remoteness.

What do you think is unique and special about the programs that Rural and Remote Mental Health deliver?

Our point of difference is achieved through collaborations with community leaders to tailor evidence-based and validated interventions for their community. Our trained Presenter network includes but is not limited to mental health professionals, educators, and community leaders motivated to improve mental health awareness. Our programs complement the work of organisations and provide local solutions for communities. Our proven interventions can be tailored for workplaces and communities and build the capacity of local people to continue to raise awareness of mental health, reduced stigma, and intervene and help prevent the immediate risk of suicide in their communities.

Do you have goals for the programs as they evolve and the year moves on?

We are working towards implementing a blended learning approach and launching an online community to improve our program reach and support of our trained Presenters. As we emerge out of COVID restrictions we anticipate that program activities will increase. Our focus for the year will be on building the capacity of our Presenter network and we welcome our 1000th trained Presenter.

What are some obstacles to delivering workshops and reaching the goals of RRMH, how can people help?

We rely on donations and sponsorship to do our work. We are continually looking to form new partnerships and applying for new funding opportunities to reach more people. Aside from funding, other barriers have been:

  • Recruitment and retention of Presenters in remote and very remote locations
  • Access to IT expertise to evolve our program delivery methods and integrate e-learning and online community support platforms
  • Public and government knowledge and understanding of our work and outcomes