Within the scope of mental health, men are notorious as being a tough population to engage with, particularly in rural and remote communities. As a result, trying to find innovative and mobile ways to engage them is vital. Men from rural and remote areas and men with a disability (inclusive of mental ill health) have been identified as priority groups in the Australian Government's National Men's Health Strategy 2020–2030. Higher rates of mental ill health and suicide occur in these groups; in addition, mental ill health is a risk for all the male priority population groups.
Three Rivers Department of Rural Health (DRH) has spent the past few years creating an innovative health student placement model that aligns with the National Men’s Health Strategy 2020–2030. To do this, we have partnered with Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) to deliver the health-screening and health-promoting initiative, Spanner in the Works?, at one of Australia’s largest agricultural events.
On the final day of Henty Machinery Field Days 2022, for the first time in the event’s almost 60-year history, the gates were shut mid-morning due to the site reaching maximum capacity. Within the gates the mood was excited and lively; kids were running around with their parents and communities of farmers had come together to enjoy a day out. Event attendees were met by 14 enthusiastic Charles Sturt Bachelor of Paramedicine students eager to promote health. At the AMSA Spanner in the Works? tent, students conducted a record-breaking 433 health chats across the three-day event. The health screening and health promotion included a mix of physical and mental wellness checks with consenting individuals.
This partnership, established in 2018 and expanded in 2019, hit a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic before returning bigger and better in 2022. The time away provided an opportunity to build upon the existing model and consult on how we could improve the offering, to benefit men in rural and remote areas who attend the event. Mental health was identified as an absent part of the health-screening and health-promotion program, therefore the K10 assessment tool was added to provide a safe space for communication, promotion of supports and tools, and highlighting the importance of mental wellness to men.
Alongside two social workers from Three Rivers DRH, we were fortunate to have the Farm Community Counsellor from the Murrumbidgee Local Health District join us to support the students to have these chats. This was important, as approximately 1.5 million Australian males aged over 18 years self-report a mental or behavioural condition, and death by suicide is three times more likely in males than females.
The statistics are daunting. Our aim is to provide a strategy that plants the seed, nourishes its growth, and leads to rural men being more likely to reach out for mental health support. Our aim is also to empower men to identify signs of mental ill health, know where to go, and feel confident that there will be a safe and understanding place.
The event is also an excellent educational experience for the students, allowing them to promote health and wellbeing. Paramedicine students expressed their fulfillment, skill gain and feeling of privilege at being invited by the community to hear stories and support men with space and time for these health chats. One student stated, ‘I enjoyed engaging with the rural community and being able to give back.’
Three Rivers DRH is proud to provide this service and this event is an excellent opportunity to give back to our local community.