Australians improving the nation

Mary O’Brien, founder of Are You Bogged Mate?
Are You Bogged Mate? A life-saving mental health message for rural men.

The stigma around talking about mental health is proving deadly for rural Australia, especially for men.

Australian males between 15 and 45 years of age are one of the highest risk categories for suicide. Men are three to four times more likely to take their own life than women and the further you move from the coast into regional, rural, and remote Australia, the more that figure climbs.

For one rural woman, the numbers were so shocking that she decided she just had to do something about it

Mary O’Brien’s home town of Dalby, three hours west of Brisbane, was devastated when two local men died by suicide in 2018. She recalled seeing the loss and bewilderment on the faces of hundreds of mates that turned up to the funerals. She could see they were all thinking the same thing ‘why didn’t he talk about it?’

Sparked by sadness and frustration, Ms O’Brien wrote an article. Before posting, though, she put a call out on social media for farmers to send in photos of bogged machines. In the article, she likened mental health problems to being bogged. The story went viral and men from around the world sent in their stories and their thanks. Ms O’Brien continues to break down barriers and put mental health issues into layman’s terms or ‘farmer speak’ to make it less scary to talk about.

Farmer Brendan Taylor thinks the analogy is a great fit. “If you get bogged what do you do? You ring your mate, you ring your neighbour. If you just need a push, you get a little push out, but if you’re proper bogged you might have to get in some bigger machinery or get a couple of tractors to pull you out and that might represent seeking some professional help,” he told ABC.

Ms O’Brien has been labelled a pioneer in bridging the gap between men and professional help. This year she was recognised with a people’s choice award in the Queensland 2020 Men’s Health Award, she also won the national Women Working in Men’s Health award.

Lyn Harwood and the locals of rebellious Mallacoota
Mallacoota residents are taking control of their bushfire recovery.

The town of Mallacoota in Victoria’s East Gippsland made international headlines when the skies turned red as the fires burned last summer.

Being more than 100km away from the nearest big town, landlocked, and Victoria’s most remote location, doesn’t give Mallacoota a good profile on the resources or easy to get to list.

The bushfires destroyed more than 100 homes as well as large stretches of bushland, farms, and infrastructure. But the little town didn’t give up, instead it stood up, brush itself off and looked to the future.

The local community has chosen to take control of its own bushfire recovery, bypassing local council in the hope it can rebuild and recover faster.

Lyn Harwood is one of six locals behind the idea.

Even as the bushfires burned, she’d already turned her mind towards recovery, and more than half of the town’s 1000 residents showed up to the first community meeting.

Mallacoota lies almost three hours from the local council headquarters in Bairnsdale and Ms Harwood said the town had a difficult relationship with the council.

“We have felt that we are not always at the forefront of the shire’s decision-making process, which is why the town running its own recovery was so important,” she said.

“We felt that this was really good because it would give everyone a level playing field, but it would also be transparent, and it would be financially audited because the hope is that there are grants coming through that would be useful to the community.”

The committee will apply for recovery grants and determine how the money is distributed to rebuild community infrastructure, including support and funding for those who lost their homes.

Thankfully, East Gippsland mayor John White is supporting the local committee: “We’ve had a lot of bridges burnt in the bushfires so I’m hoping we can build some new ones and get over this.”

Mea Campbell, founder of the Letterbox Project
Handwritten letters sent across Australia to combat isolation and loneliness.

What’s better than taking some time out to sit down and handwrite a letter? Perhaps receiving one and reading the heartfelt words inside. They are both such special actions that we partake in less and less as society moves further towards digital solutions.

Letters are a powerful way of communicating and if the current pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that connecting with friends and loved ones is more important than ever.

Thanks to the Letterbox Project, older and isolated Australians can now receive handwritten letters from likeminded people across the nation.

When developing the project, founder Mea Campbell was particularly inspired by the memory of her late grandfather.

“He was 95 when he passed away, and he lived alone. He would have found this experience awfully challenging,” Ms Campbell said. “There are so many people in similar situations, and I wanted to help them.”

The Letterbox Project is the centrepiece of Connected AU – a free online platform designed to connect and engage people. More than 6000 people have already signed up to write letters, some even include hand-drawn artwork, trivia quizzes, photos and personalised crosswords.

It’s so easy to get started. Once you sign yourself (or someone else) up to receive a letter, you’re matched with someone who shares similar interests and the correspondence begins.

“It’s so easy to get started and anyone can join, which is what makes it so great,” Ms Campbell said.

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