EMMA PEDLER, HOST: Have you ever considered how isolating the seafood industry can be? Maybe you have to work in the industry so you only know too well just how stressful days can be. When fishermen are away from their family and support systems for weeks or months at a time, it can be pretty tough. Back when the federal government released their budget, you might have heard about their Stay Afloat program to be rolled out in fishing centres in South Australia and throughout the country. It's a spend of $1.5 million in funding over two years to look after commercial fishers mental health. Emma McBride is the Assistant Federal Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. And I spoke with her earlier to ask what, again, is Stay Afloat.
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: I'm really excited to let people know that the Stay Afloat program is receiving $1.5 million over two years, we saw a very successful pilot program in Newcastle in New South Wales, Lake Entrance in Victoria and Darwin in the Northern Territory, which has really demonstrated the benefit of having specialist mental health, peer support and clinical support for people working in the seafood industry. We know that studies suggest that the rate of mental illness can be higher for commercial fishers compared to the general population. But at the moment, only about one in three are seeking help and the Stay Afloat program will really make a big difference in allowing those conversations, reducing stigma and people being linked in with the right support and care.
PEDLER: How does it actually work? Are there posters up? Is it a free call number? Do people visit boats at the marina?
MCBRIDE: So, how it will work and how to Stay Afloat program has successfully worked so far is recruiting industry volunteers, trusted advocates who are then trained in mental health first aid, people who understand the industry understand the particular pressures including that long time away from family and loved ones, and who can then really work with people within the industry to identify the signs and symptoms of poor mental health so that people can get linked in with support quickly. The other really important part of the program is also delivering mental health and wellbeing education to support local community coordinated GPs and health professionals. So they can then better support people working in that industry to be able to give them the right kinds of support and care for their mental health needs.
PEDLER: The $1.5 million is that spread out across a number of different regions?
MCBRIDE: Yes, it was really important working with Seafood Industry Australia to be able to identify the right locations for Stay Afloat. And this was done through consultation with stakeholders including Seafood Victoria, the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council, Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council, the Professional Fisheries Association in New South Wales and Women in Seafood Australasia, to make sure that when identifying these locations, they were ones where the communities that identified as having high employment and engagement with the commercial fishing industry. So what it will mean is that from these initial three pilots, there will now be 50 rolled out around Australia, in communities that have strong identification with the commercial fishing industry, identifying those local champions who will be trained in mental health first aid and become the advocate, and then working with GPs and health providers locally, so that they're much better equipped to respond to the mental health needs of people working within the industry.
PEDLER: $1.5 million over 50 sea food communities doesn't seem like very much when it's broken down. What will the money be used for locally?
MCBRIDE: So what this money will be used for is for local advocates to be trained in mental health first aid. Mental health first aid is recognised and credential training, that means that people are trained in being able to identify the signs and symptoms of mental ill-health, to be able to have safe conversations with people who they think might be experiencing those and then to be able to link them in, in a compassionate and empathetic way, with the right support and care. So this funding will go to upskilling local people that work within the industry, to equip them with mental health first aid and also to provide information support to health providers. So this investment will go a long way towards upskilling those individuals to be better advocates within their industry and to supporting health workers to be able to respond.
PEDLER: There are so many different fishing communities in South Australia which are going to receive the Stay Afloat funding?
MCBRIDE: So the stay afloat hubs we based at Port Macdonnell, Robe Beachport, Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Streaky Bay and Kingscote. And from those hubs, then it'll mean that people within those industries are up skilled and trained and the reach will be far broader.
PEDLER: What have they had to say about that funding, and maybe a while ago, given that this was announced in the budget?
MCBRIDE: Well broadly, because as I said, this has been really industry led and their approach to tackling the problems, that the state coordinators have been very keen to be able to move the resources to support communities, and really welcomed the support that they can then be able to provide more broadly to see the emerging challenges that arise and making sure that people get the right help and support when they need it.
PEDLER: What are your points that you know, when something like this has been successful?
MCBRIDE: Well, what we've seen already in the pilot that it has sparked more than 8,000 conversations about mental health in the seafood industry. And when we see that the rates of mental illness can be higher for commercial fishers compared to the general population, that at the moment that only about one in three are seeking help, that in and of itself, is a really good outcome. And to know then that of those 8,000 conversation, which were safe conversations where people then had a better understanding of their own symptoms, and what that might mean, then 220 people in crisis were linked in with mental health services. So this is genuinely supporting lives and saving lives.
PEDLER: Given that it was only trialled in a couple of different areas, are you foreseeing then that this could mean so many more?
MCBRIDE: We would expect that as you look at that this is from three trials sites that we've seen this sort of results, that we would expect that when it's rolled out across Australia, across 50, Stay Afloat hubs, that we'll see a real change in reducing stigma in encouraging help seeking behaviour, and when people do seek help, but they get the right kind of support and care from a health practitioner who has a much deeper understanding of the particular concerns and impacts of people within the fishing industry.
PEDLER: And finally, when does the training start, when will the first people be heading in for their mental health first aid?
MCBRIDE: So this is happening very quickly and it will be organised through the state coordinators and through those local hubs, and I'm really pleased to see that people working within the fishing industry will be better equipped to help others and to make sure that people can get the support and care where and when they need it.
PEDLER: So in a couple of weeks?
MCBRIDE: It's being rolled out through the through the state coordinated. So it should be happening very quickly. I just wanted to recognise the role of Seafood Industry in Australia and the industry partners in really showing leadership in making sure that the mental health and well being of people that work within that industry, are well supported. And we know that initiatives that are led by communities, or by the sector are ones that are often the most successful. So we're really keen to continue this partnership and see the benefits and reaching far more people around Australia.
PEDLER: That there is Emma McBride, Assistant Federal Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention talking about Stay Afloat.