Rural Australians understand all too well the tyranny of distance, especially when it comes to mental health. Distance from a GP, from mental health services and supports - even from family and friends. If you’re having issues with your mental health, or need support managing stress, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to turn.
Beyond Blue offers a range of resources that are proving especially useful to people in rural and regional areas, because they can be accessed from their own home.
One of the most popular tools Beyond Blue offers are its online forums. Here, people can use anonymous identities to discuss what they’re going through, share information and learn from those who have gone through similar experiences. Many forum users are in regional areas – a 2016 survey found 44 per cent of forum participants lived in regional Australia. This is significant, given 35 per cent of the population live remotely.
The forums are a moderated space for discussion of depression, anxiety, suicide and related life issues. A community manager runs the forums with the support of volunteer community champions – people who have used the forums before and can speak from experience. Community champions are trained members of the online forums community based around Australia who volunteer their time to help respond to posts and help moderate conversations. Clinically-trained back-up is also available for users at risk of suicide.
The forums can:
- provide encouragement to access professional help
- encourage people to discuss issues with friends and family
- inspire people to make positive lifestyle changes
- provide tips and coping strategies from life experience
- help people know they’re are not alone, that someone is listening, that others have been in the same situation to you and come out the other side.
One of the early users of the forums is Tony who lives in Strathbogie, a small town in Victoria’s high-country. For the last four years, he’s been a community champion.
Tony says his vast experience helps him relate to members of the forums community. At 63, he lives with anxiety and various forms of depression. He has worked in the RAAF, as a prison officer, a security guard and a private investigator. A couple of members of his family have died by suicide and in 1996, Tony tried to take his own life.
“No matter what people are going through, I try to relate to them.”
Tony initially decided to join the online forums to complement the professional support he was getting.
“When I started undergoing professional treatment for my issues, I thought that would be it, that it was dealt with, but I realised I needed something more to help stay on top of things, so I joined the forums.”
For people like Tony who live in remote and regional Australia, distance has a big impact on their mental health.
“Our rural forum users are often isolated, some of them don’t have many friends and they might not see their friends very often. They don’t have that hand on the shoulder when they’re down.”
“The distance factor also means it’s harder to book a medical appointment, it takes longer to drive to that appointment and so on.
“If you log on to the forums, you can talk about things more quickly. Users often have someone comment on their thread and say ‘that happened to me’ and offer advice about how they handled it.”