Radio interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Debra Pearce, ABC Mildura-Swan Hill - 22 March 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride and Debra Pearce's radio interview on Taking Stock suicide prevention for farmers, Black Dog NEWSS program and rural mental health.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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General public

Debra Pearce, Host: You hear about it more now than ever, so sometimes I guess it seems like the term mental health can be a bit of a buzz word but you've probably also heard that farmers are especially at risk, but the actual statistics should shock you because suicide rates among farmers in Australia is up to 94% higher than for non-farmers, and if you can't imagine what that means, here it is, we lose one farmer every 10 days. Emma McBride is the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, and also the Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health. Good morning.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Good morning, Deb, it's good to be with you.

PEARCE: Thank you for joining us, tell us about this new tool designed for Australian farmers.

MCBRIDE: What I think will be so good about this new tool, Taking Stock, is it was designed by farmers for farmers, that it's a resource that's been built from the ground up with direct input from farmers on what could help prevent suicide and boost wellbeing in their own communities. And we know that some of the most effective suicide prevention initiatives are local and are community led.

PEARCE: Is this largely an online tool?

MCBRIDE: Yes, we know that a lot of farmers face the tyranny of distance, loneliness, and social isolation. And we know one of the ways of bridging that is being able to access things online. So Taking Stock, it's free, it's online, and it's a suicide prevention tool that is available now, for farmers.

PEARCE: It's great, because when I first mentioned this to other people around me, they sort of said, 'do farmers get online a lot?' And I know that there are some black spot issues, but people underestimate, I think sometimes have tech savvy farmers can be these days with all the other equipment and things they deal with.

MCBRIDE: Farming and agriculture is one of our most high tech industries. So, for farmers to be using technology is something that's just day-to-day. So, what Taking Stock does is it brings information from direct interviews with farmers about what would help them and what they think would help others. There's interviews, there's podcasts on the farmer experience, and there's also information, if someone would like to, to help set up local suicide prevention groups and how to connect and engage with local communities. Because we know that that early intervention and prevention is our best safeguard against rising rates of suicide.

PEARCE: And that local element is so important. We've been aware of the struggles that farmers are facing for a long time, particularly through droughts, recently flooding, why do you think the rates of farmers losing their battle with mental health are still so high?

MCBRIDE: We know that suicide is complex and it's individual. But, what we what we also know is that there are underlying vulnerabilities and one of those for farmers would be that isolation, that professional and social isolation. Talking to a farmer just last week, what he mentioned to me was, he said, 'being in farming is like gambling,' he said, 'you never know what the weather is going to do, you never know what their seasons will be like.' So, we know that there's a lot of pressure on farmers, on farming households, and particularly as we face these financial headwinds, we know that that's something, that financial distress and that pressure, can have a particular and unique impact on farmers and farming communities.

PEARCE: There's also a new support service being established for emergency workers. What are the details on that?

MCBRIDE: I was really pleased to join the Black Dog Institute last week to be able to join with the Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt to announce the Government's investment in supporting Black Dog to expand the work that they've done with first responders after the Black Summer Bushfires through to all first responders. We know that the rates of PTSD particularly amongst first responders are two times the rate of the general population, and that 39% of first responders will be diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their life. That puts enormous strain on them and on their family, but also puts enormous strain on our services. So, being able to keep that person well, and helping them to continue to work as a fiery as a police officer is absolutely critical to keeping us safe. So the government is now investing with the Black Dog Institute to expand this program. So every emergency service worker who's responded to a national disaster, whether it's a bushfire, or a flood, or the COVID-19 pandemic, can get the support and help that they need.

PEARCE: So important, especially when it's hard enough to recruit people into these roles, let alone keep them healthy and keep them in there.

MCBRIDE: It is absolutely vital, and I was talking to a former police officer last night, who spoke about her own experience of PTSD, and how she's no longer in the police force. We need to be able to recruit, retain and support our emergency service workers. The results that I've seen from Black Dog so far, are really promising. They've seen that with the right intervention at the right time, that emergency responders who are experiencing PTSD can now fully recover and will be able to return to the workforce and be able to continue their lives. So this is something that is so important for the individuals, so important for our emergency services, and critical in keeping us as communities safe, as we see an increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters.

PEARCE: Yeah, and just helping people to understand that PTSD diagnosis isn't a death sentence.

MCBRIDE: And in the past, it's been seen some as something that you just had to live with, that you just had to cope with, and hearing from first responders, and what really encouraged me was the number of peer workers that we now have within our emergency services, people who speak about their own lived experience, and through that use their own lived experience to help and support others. In the past, there's been a stigma for someone who's meant to be, you know, on the front line and helping others to be able to seek help themselves. So we know that that peer workforce is a really big step in helping others to be able to seek the help and support they need.

PEARCE: It's eighteen-to-nine here on ABC Mildura - Swan Hill, you're hearing from Emma McBride, Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, your portfolio Emma can be a heavy one at times, I can imagine dealing with things that sometimes people don't want to talk about, what makes you passionate about mental health and suicide prevention?

MCBRIDE: I'm a pharmacist, and early in my career, I started working in mental health. I saw people who just felt they had nowhere else to turn. Working as a pharmacist and working within a health system, I saw the strain that our health services were under. So, what really drives me is knowing that if we can work in communities, if we can work with local people, to strengthen communities, whether it's introducing Taking Stock or NEWSS to help first responders, we know that we're going to be able to strengthen communities, keep people well and keep people out of those acute hospital systems. It's really important for those people for their families, and it creates capacity in our health system as well. It's a genuine privilege, and what I really am so grateful for is how open and honest local communities are with me, how welcoming they are. It's what really helps me to be able to get those unique insights into local communities, whether I'm in Launceston in Tasmania or Cairns in Far North Queensland, or Colac in Victoria, when people tell me about what's happened to them, we can then feed that directly into shaping policy that will strengthen communities. Because, as I said at the outset, we know that some of the most effective suicide prevention initiatives are local, their community led, and they just need sometimes that bit of support from government to be able to scale up and continue the work that they do.

PEARCE: You have shared some great new things happening this morning, but does government need to do more?

MCBRIDE: I've been a pharmacist for nearly 25 years and since I first registered in the late 1990s, Medicare is in the worst shape that it's been in. This is a problem, people tell me in communities across Australia, that they can't see a GP, that it's harder than it's ever been to find a doctor or a specialist who will bulk bill. The reality is that this problem starts in the outer suburbs and continues across Australia. After nine years of the former government, this is a big challenge, but it's one that we're determined to face, and it's one that we will do working in strong collaboration hand-in-hand with local communities, because we know that the needs that someone might have in Mildura might be quite different to what someone might have in Colac. And that's why we need to make sure that we have that individual place-based response, but the overarching support and scaffolding from government to make sure that you know what works we can scale up and can support people across Australia.

PEARCE: Well Emma McBride, thank you for your time this morning and for sharing about these great new initiatives with us.

MCBRIDE: So good to be with you Deb. Thank you.

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