Rural Aid Triples Counselling Team
Rural Aid has made a huge investment into improving regional mental health to date, appointing ten new counsellors across the country this year and committing $3.75 million over the next three years to help address the yawning gaps in regional mental health care.
Nine of the Australian charity’s new counsellors are already situated, actively serving their regional community. Rural Aid counsellors from the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team generally visit farmers on their properties offering free, confidential support to them and their families. Rural Aid CEO, John Wariters said Rural Aid’s commitment to placing counsellors in rural Australia will save lives. “We know people who live regionally have poorer access to health professionals and are more likely to struggle with their mental health due to lack of appropriate and timely support,” Mr Wariters said. “Farmers and rural teenagers have more than double the rate of suicide compared to urban populations.” “Rural Aid is desperately trying to change that.” Mr Wariters said that wasn’t an easy task when you consider that farmers are often their own worst enemy with regard to their own wellbeing. Farmers tend to prioritise their properties, animals and everything going on at their properties above their own health and mental wellbeing, which is another reason that the unique service provided by Rural Aid is so important. “Being able to take the counsellor to the farmer, and have the conversation around the kitchen table, or leaning over the back fence or out in the paddock… just seems to click,” he said. “They (Rural Aid Counsellors) drive up driveways to see our farmers where they feel most comfortable.” One of Rural Aid’s new counsellors based in Bega, NSW, Liz Bellette-Stubbs said she was drawn to Rural Aid partly by how accessible their wellbeing program was. “Not only are the counsellors available without a huge waiting list, but we’re free, too,” Ms Bellette-Stubbs said. “Farmers are often so stretched that they can’t afford to buy feed for their animals, let alone spend money on themselves.” Mr Wariters said Rural Aid’s counsellors were mental wellbeing specialists who counselled, taught and referred clients to higher levels of care. “We know that investing in early intervention achieves results,” he said. “It leads to a reduction in the number of people who require acute treatment.” “This is achieved through the provision of mental wellbeing education, tools and pathways for assistance at the preventative end.” “Rural Aid counsellors are qualified to assist farmers across the continuum of mental health, from prevention and early intervention, right through to treatment.” “If we can get to people early, have them recognise symptoms and get some simple but effective strategies, we help them before things escalate to the point they need hospitalisation.” “This will reduce pressure on the health system while prevention strategies will help rural people to live their best lives.” Rural Aid’s counselling program has been highly successful, with counsellors working within their community to create and implement vital mental health programs and strategies. The counsellors build trusted relationships with their local communities. They also attend field days, events and natural disaster sites. Mr Wariters said they have had some very generous corporate sponsors to date, but they would welcome more. “We’re really looking for the support of everyday Australians and businesses big and small to help us underwrite costs,” he said. “We know the need for our counsellors is very, very real.”
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