Beyond Blue bus drives to ’empower local communities’

Posted on 26/02/2014 · Posted in Blog

“Five or six years ago, I honestly did not think I would work again. It got really bad. But now I’m managing a farm and I’m a mental health advocate as well so it is possible to recover.”

Eddie Sloan is now 50, working on a farm in Dalby, Queensland, but when he was in his twenties, he began his long fight with depression.

“At that stage, I was using alcohol as a prop to keep myself going. I was noticing through the later twenties that I was getting very very fatigued very easily, I was very confused, I could not make great decisions and I was finding myself sometimes just falling asleep in the paddock or in the ute or under a tree in the afternoons.”

Mr Sloan, with the help of doctors and his family, has managed to overcome the painful symptoms of depression. He’s now an ambassador for beyondblue, a not-for-profit organisation that raises awareness about mental health issues in Australia.

Beyondblue launched a national road trip campaign today to raise awareness about mental health issues.

The beyondblue bus will travel 22,000 kilometres for 16 months to visit towns and cities in an attempt to tackle local issues, especially in remote communities.

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It’s tough out there for a farmer

Life as a farmer in Australia can be tough. They experience significant loss when there’s a drought or a flood. The isolation gets to them too.

Mr Sloan knows how hard it is to struggle with mental illness as a farmer in a remote location.

He says it’s hard to find practical support when doctors and mental health professionals are located far from rural communities, but he says it’s easier now than it was when he was diagnosed.

“Things have changed these days with the internet,” he says. “At the end of the day, people have a bit of education on what to do in the way of approaching mental health professionals and what to look for in themselves.”

During its Roadshow, beyondblue is looking to reach those rural communities that struggle to get the support they need for mental health issues.

They will be hosting local events like workplace mental health presentations and free check-ups with mental health professionals.

Crucial community involvement

Their collaboration with local communities is extremely valuable, says David Samuel, Chairman of the Limelight Foundation Australia.

“It’s something that’s going to empower local communities,” he says. “Communities will be left stronger and more able to address mental health.”

Although Mr Samuel praises the campaign, he says more can be done by urban and rural communities to address mental health.

“We all share a responsibility to ensure that all of the things we’re doing are more mental health friendly. Whether we’re running a school, whether we’re participants in a workplace – there are things that all of us can be doing to make it easier to have conversations about mental health.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott was present at the beyondblue Roadshow launch. He spoke in support of the campaign.

“This is a community campaign to reach out to our fellow Australians in need. Dark moments will come, for some very dark indeed. Mental health has been the hidden epidemic for so long. Thanks to the efforts of beyondblue we are doing better.”

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A government presence at the event was welcome, but Mr Samuel says there needs to be more long-term planning on its behalf.

“Governments at all levels really start to have a conversation about what mental health targets should look like,” he says.

Mr Samuel says there are currently no indicators or targets in place to plan for future access to mental health services and improvements to the industry.  

According to the national report card on mental health and suicide prevention, almost half of all Australians have or will be faced with a mental health problem.

Approximately 2,300 people commit suicide in Australia every year.

“We’re all human. We’re not immune to these sorts of things,” says Eddie Sloan.

He says he hopes the beyondblue campaign can make an impact on Australians battling mental illness.

“Just the fact that they can get out there and do that and a bit of that peer support and community education – it’s going to go a long way I think.”