In 2023, Regional Arts Australia launched the Regional Creatives Wellbeing Program. Arts workers and artists in Australia’s regional, rural and remote areas often face unique mental health challenges, along with limited access to resources and services to address these needs. Recognising this need within our communities, we partnered with The Hey Mate Project to design and deliver this program providing regional creatives with online access to mental health, wellness support and education sessions.
A key element in the delivery of the program was affordability and reducing, or removing, any financial barriers for participation. Sessions were priced as free, pay what you can, or subsidised, with an option for any participants facing financial pressures to attend in a fully subsidised place.
The program was structured into several parts, from short and sharp bite-sized sessions to certified Mental Health First Aid Training held over two longer sessions. Topics included ‘Mental Health v Illness’, ‘How to beat isolation for creatives living and working remotely’, ‘Creative Industry Workplace Wellbeing’, and ‘Building Resilience’. Training was also offered for Regional Arts Australia network employees on dealing with intense emotions within the workplace.
Facilitators from The Hey Mate Project aimed to address and provide practical tips and strategies to overcome feelings of isolation and loneliness across these topics. Participants discussed the challenges unique to regional arts workers and artists and how they can support themselves individually and within their communities. The sessions provided strategies to promote psychological endurance, respond adaptively to external pressures, improve confidence, and increase capacity and satisfaction with life. Importantly, participants in the Mental Health First Aid sessions learned how to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing mental health difficulties.
Over 58 per cent of participants who responded to the post program survey said they have had the opportunity to use tips, tools, or techniques from the program in their own life since attending the program.
Participant responses demonstrated an increased capacity in mental health awareness. One participant noted "I now have confidence in assisting someone in crisis. Because of my training, I value my position as a responsible person in delicate situations." Another stated, “The training that I have received has propelled me into exploring new careers in mental health and wellbeing.”
In response to the question ‘What would you say has been the most valuable aspect of this program to you?’, one participant wrote "Recognising changes in the behaviours of others and confidently being able to navigate past the initial enquiry". This not only benefits individual artists but strengthens the entire community by creating a network of support for those in need.
Other responses highlighted the benefits of the low cost and free options with a participant sharing “I really appreciated being able to do this so cheaply - it was very worthwhile and relevant in my field (writing)”.
There is a need for programs like this to continue in the regional arts community. They improve mental health, foster empathy and build supportive networks for arts and arts workers in regional areas. As one participant said “Keep offering this - mental health is so important, especially for the Arts!”
The Regional Creatives Wellbeing Program is an initiative of Regional Arts Australia delivered in partnership with The Hey Mate Project. It is made possible through the Regional Arts Fund, an Australian Government program that supports sustainable cultural development in regional and remote communities in Australia.