There’s a romantic notion of an Aussie bloke from the bush: rugged, indestructible and tough. While this may be true, there’s another side to the real life story of men’s health in remote Australia.
Research shows that men in remote Australia are in poorer health; both mentally and physically, compared to their city counterparts. Some of the statistics are staggering.
For example, men living outside major cities are 26 per cent more likely to have a substance use disorder at some time in their lives. They are 18 per cent more likely to report a recent injury. More rural men report diabetes and they are more likely to smoke and drink heavily.
Suicide rates are 10 times higher for never-married men in remote and very remote areas compared with married men living in major cities.
Coordinator of the Frontier Services Dalrymple Rural Family Support Service in North Queensland, Jeanie Brook, has been working with families on the land for more than 30 years. She has seen men struggle with their mental well-being in the face of drought, floods and through financial difficulties.
“It is a challenge to get men to look after themselves, even to see a GP. They won’t come in. Even kicking and screaming.”
“Men on the land find it very difficult to express themselves. Often they just hang about with another male they trust not really talking about the issues, but feeling somehow accepted in their presence.”
Recently, Jeanie has been working with families impacted by the drought and has seen farmers experience heart wrenching guilt as they have foreclosed their properties to the bank.
To get men talking about their health, Jeanie is grateful for the Frontier Services Patrol Ministers.
“The male Patrol Ministers who drop in to the properties for a chat are an invaluable resource for men in the bush. I cannot speak highly enough of them.”
Parkin Patrol Minister Gary Ferguson, based in Hawker, SA, has struggled with depression himself. He says men in the bush tend to brush off the signs of poor mental health.
“A typical country approach is, ‘she’ll be right mate, I don’t need a doctor’, mostly because of their belief that men have to be strong.”
“In the city there are more places to go and drink your problems away. Out here there are not as many distractions. There is no emergency access to services – it can be a five hour trip just to see a professional.
“We need to find creative ways to support people in remote areas, we need community education around the signs of depression and we need to encourage men to speak up and seek help.”