For the last three years I have travelled through rural and remote Australia talking to rural people and promoting the Virtual Psychologist, an organisation that has provided 24/7 professional mental health support free of charge to people in the bush. I have worked closely with Dervla Loughnane, founder of Virtual Psychologist, since she started and together, we have assisted many people in crisis situations.
Distraught rural people often contact me, I refer thousands of people to the Virtual Psychologist every year, and I have frequently rung Dervla for advice on a variety of situations. On some occasions, Dervla or I have had to contact police and ambulance to attend a person when there has been immediate risk of self-harm. We have then talked to the wife/mother as their husband/son is taken into care, and we have touched base with them for days, weeks and months afterwards to check in. I do not have the words to describe the gratitude of these people that they have a service like Virtual Psychologist available to them in their hour of need.
Are You Bogged Mate? is not a crisis support service and I never promote it as such, but the reality is that sometimes we are the only organisation that a rural man feels comfortable contacting. And while that makes me immensely proud that these men feel safe to do so, I am NOT a trained professional and I will not pretend to be one, but I will never turn away someone in distress. If a man contacts me and they will not contact the Virtual Psychologist or any other service, then I use the Virtual Psychologist as a resource for advice on how to help that man. In my experience, most of these situations have occurred in the middle of the night and I am usually a thousand miles away from where that bloke is.
Every year there is a ridiculous amount of money put into mental health in this country and the Virtual Psychologist needs such a tiny amount to keep this service running and free for the bush. I do not understand why their government funding has been stopped when this is a critical service and one that actually works.
I want to know the answers to these questions:
· Where does all the money go?
· Is it spent creating a new policy on how to deal with the ever-increasing crisis of mental health in this country?
· Is the money spent re-structuring or re-branding a department while people in rural Australia wait months for basic mental health care and rural men kill themselves at more than three times the rate of city people?
· Is it spent googling where rural and remote Australia is located?
· Or is it spent working out how many votes are in a region to decide if they are worthy of getting more frontline health care services?
If it is not spent on those things, then where is it being spent? Because I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is not being spent in the bush.
Recently my heart broke as a man broke down in tears in front of me and said he really wanted help, but he could not get an appointment with a psychologist for 3-4 months.
Politicians and people in urban areas fail to understand the difficulty we face in obtaining basic services in rural areas. We also appreciate that understanding is difficult to come by but all they need to do is listen and we will tell them.
Here is some qualitative feedback Virtual Psychologist received from a few people in the rural and remote areas of Australia:
1. You maybe be the best thing that ever happened to me here. (son of a farmer)
2. At times, I can find it difficult to want to talk about feelings in person. Text alleviates that issue, whilst also allowing me to think through my answers better to ensure I am giving the best answer to get the right help. Tonight, I have been feeling pretty crappy and would probably end up breaking down and crying on the phone. Text is also convenient, I find it hard to get the time to make personal calls, and I often have a lot to do after work.
Thank-you very much Dervla, you've been a huge help, it's a start and I needed it more than you know. (farm manager)
3. We made it! Thank you for your support Dervla, us pair of bushies couldn't have gotten through it without knowing we could text to you when things got hairy. It's a very important service you offer, and we are eternally grateful for being there in our time of need (farmers wife)
4. It is easier. My small children don’t have to hear what I am talking about and are ‘insecured’ by my statements of what is going on. Thankyou. I desperately needed the support you have given today. It’s been a difficult time and it’s hard to get support that is suitable to the current situation (single mom in rural area)
5. I am the fourth-generation dairy farmer that told my story of a suicide attempt when I was put under so much pressure that my family left me and went to live in town. After a lot of help from Virtual Psychologist I know that I can go on. I cannot say enough about Dervla and Brian, but I know without them helping me to work through these tough times I wouldn't be around to tell my story. Thank you. Please donate to this great cause because they deserve it. Thanks, dairy farmer in NSW
Feedback from people as to why they are using text rather than phone or face to face:
1. “I found texting less confronting then speaking to someone by phone or face to face as it was less emotional”
2. “I liked getting straight to the point and was able to follow up what was recommended by the counsellor as it was all on my phone.”
3. “I was in tears and felt extremely distraught, so phone was too hard and I needed immediate help”
4. “I get extremely anxious when having to make calls. So, it gave me time to work out what I was trying to say as I could write it out and read it over”
5. “it was convenient, and private. I could do it from the tractor without my family knowing about it.
6. “It was easier to ask for help as I didn’t have to talk to anyone directly”
7. “I could do it at a time that was convenient to me as the service was 24 hours per day and fitted in with my long hours.”
8. “I was too embarrassed to ask for help and this seemed an easier way to reach out.”