Working hand-in-hand for drought-affected Western NSW
Date: February 20, 2020
Author: Camilla Herbig, Rural Adversity Mental Health Program and Matt March, Drought Support Team
The perception of drought is often one of flat, grassless paddocks, empty dams and emaciated animals, with ageing farmers struggling to cope. What is often misunderstood or forgotten is the impact on families, businesses, small towns, contractors and community groups.
Across western NSW, drought comes in many forms, with varying impacts. For some, the greatest impact is a lack of water or feed for livestock. For others, it is a reduction in the usually successful productivity and independence of rural businesses, whether it be a farmer, contractor, or local shop keeper. And at times, it is the impact of relentless, insidious dust storms and patchy rainfall which can bring any ‘tough’ person undone.
With the shift in media attention towards the horrific bushfires this summer, it can begin to feel that drought-affected communities in the west have been forgotten. But despite the stories of our plight moving a few pages back in the newspaper, there is still a significant workforce working daily to support communities in the west.
Since 2006 and throughout this drought, the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) has worked with rural communities impacted by fires, floods, drought and other localised adverse events to create awareness of mental health and mental ill-health in rural NSW, breaking down barriers to accepting help, providing education and the most appropriate information, resources and services to someone in need.
RAMHP Coordinators provide support to drought-affected communities and draw from a diverse toolkit of information and referral pathways. This includes the practical shoulder to lean on of a Drought Support Worker. They fundamentally understand and often experience the same challenges of those needing support.
The Drought Support Team (DST) of Western NSW Local Health District was formed over 12 months ago and gives the invaluable resource of time and a listening ear to anyone impacted by drought who often are just overwhelmed or bogged down, allowing them to know it is ok to struggle, they aren’t alone, and to cathartically get things off their chest.
Throughout this time, RAMHP and the DST have worked hand-in-hand to support rural communities across western NSW. With RAMHP leading the way in facilitating training and hosting events for rural communities, providing information relating to support services available and linking people to the care they need, the DST complement this with the valuable role of providing ongoing and relatable one-on-one support to people affected by drought.
You may have seen us together at the Mudgee Small Farm Field Day or Nyngan Ag Expo providing health checks and chatting to visiting landholders about how they are coping. Or sharing a cuppa and scone at an Ag’n’Chat morning tea or a community craft day. Young people have also been supported through these teams working side-by-side at the North West Equestrian Expo Health Hub and UNICEF Youth Drought Summit.
Over the past 12 months, DST members have had boots on the ground chatting and listening at kitchen tables and local coffee shops or sharing a meal at the pub, visiting school wellness hubs to listen to how young people are coping with the drought, or standing side by side with a farmer in the paddock or a workshop, lending an ear to someone who at times may not feel heard.
We will continue to be here as we move into 2020, working hand-in-hand between programs and with rural communities to get through these tough times together.
If you or someone in your life would benefit from talking to someone about your experience and getting help to navigate the options available, you can contact the Drought Support Team for Western NSW during business hours on (02) 6881 4002.
For information on the training, information, support and downloadable resources RAMHP provides or to find contact details of your nearest RAMHP Coordinator, visit www.ramhp.com.au
If you have an urgent mental health concern, please contact the NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 for advice or Lifeline on 13 11 14.