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Outback depression situation near crisis poin -

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Outback depression situation near crisis point, health conference told

Broadcast: 16/05/2007

Reporter: Genevieve Hussey

The ongoing stress of trying to stay on the land during a crippling drought has been tough on
families across outback Australia. With the stress triggering depression and even suicide, doctors
are warning the situation in reaching crisis point.


KERRY O'BRIEN: For countless families across outback Australia the past five years have been tough,
with the ongoing stress of trying to stay on the land during a crippling drought.

It's no surprise that rural doctors are warning that the cumulative stress has triggered another
long and painful battle for many, with depression.

And while people in the Bush aren't any more susceptible to the illness than those in the cities,
the suicide rate for men over 25 is trending up in regional Australia.

Doctors argue a lack of services means people often aren't getting the help they need, and a
national rural health conference in Melbourne today was told the situation is reaching crisis

Genevieve Hussey reports.

BRIAN EGAN: People are in debt up to their eyeballs and a lot of people just don't see themselves
as having a future.

JANET GOLDING: We've been through some hell, to put it bluntly. We didn't think it could ever get
worse - and then it just seemed to get worse. But emotionally it, it's a Russian roulette.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: For the past five years, families across country Australia have faced the worst
drought ever recorded. For some the financial struggle to stay on the land has triggered a second,
more private battle - against the painful illness of depression.

dealing with it very well. I think if we look at recent figures for suicide for instance, in men
over 25, there is clearly a trend for those numbers to climb where for the last few years in fact
they've been reducing. And I think probably that's related to the kind of major problem in rural
Australia at the moment, which is the, the downturn and the drought.

BRIAN EGAN, AUSSIE HELPERS: Good morning, Aussie Helpers. Brian speaking.

I'd lost everything. I had, didn't have anything in the world to live for. I'd, all I could see was

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Eight years ago, Brian Egan was a broken man. The former Vietnam veteran had
decided to fulfil a long-held dream, buying a small farm near Dalby in south-east Queensland. Then
came drought. He lost the farm, went bankrupt and twice tried to take his own life.

BRIAN EGAN: It was just severe depression and I ended up being hospitalised. Took about a year in a
veteran's hospital.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Eventually when he began to recover, he vowed to help others facing the same
struggle. He and his wife Meredith set up the charity Aussie Helpers at Charleville in western
Queensland. Last year alone they distributed more than half a million dollars in aid.

Brian Egan says he's spurred on by the memory of a farmer he tried to help who eventually committed

BRIAN EGAN: I just said to God, I said, look, I vow for, you know, from this day that, you know, as
long as I've got breath in my body I'll help people in the Bush who're in trouble.

JANET GOLDING, FARMER: They just are angels. They've come in at times and we, we just, bottom of
the barrel. Did not think there was ever going to be a way to come up. And, you know, you find a
parcel at the front gate and it's just all food.

(Pig squealing)

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: For Janet and Dave Golding, Aussie Helpers has been a lifeline. The high cost of
feed during this drought has almost bankrupt their piggery near Dalby in south east Queensland.

JANET GOLDING: There's been times where we've really leaned on each other and then there's been
times where we just haven't spoken because if you admit to yourself that this is how bad it's got,
you'd just think maybe I won't make it through til tomorrow.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Dave Golding doesn't want to talk on camera. His wife Janet says in many small
rural communities there's still stigma attached to seeking help.

JANET GOLDING: For him to be able to turn around and say, I don't think we can make it this month -
it's just not on. That's how a lot of fellas see it, you know. And the hard part is getting them to
understand they're human.

PROFESSOR GRAHAM MARTIN: I think on the whole men are not good at examining their own emotions,
their own feelings. I don't think they're good at recognising the issues inside.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Mental health specialist Professor Graham Martin says, while suicide rates have
fallen significantly it remains a problem in 25 to 45 year old men. Those from lower socio-economic
backgrounds in remote areas may be more vulnerable.

While those in the Bush aren't any more susceptible to depression, they may be more reluctant to
seek help.

PROFESSOR GRAHAM MARTIN: They're not good at reaching out to the GP or the local psychologist, or
even somebody who's got some professional skill.

GRAHAM BROWN, FARMER: Up you come...

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Third generation farmer Graham Brown knows just how devastating the illness can
be. When his head stockman killed himself in 1985, it was a wake-up call for Graham Brown to seek
help for his own depression.

GRAHAM BROWN: Well initially went and saw my local doctor and he said right, let's go and see a
psychologist. And so we went from there.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: With medication and counselling, Graham Brown recovered. His experience helps him
spot those in trouble and direct them to their local doctor.

GRAHAM BROWN: If you see somebody withdrawing you need to go and talk to them and, and not be
frightened to talk about coping.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: But doctors in regional Australia are also under growing pressure. Christian
Rowan works as a GP on the Darling Downs, west of Brisbane.

DR CHRISTIAN ROWAN, RURAL DOCTORS ASSOC OF QLD: Outside of any of the major regional or capital
cities, finding psychologists and psychiatrists is very difficult.

lack of access to psychologists, to specialists. And as a consequence of that, suicide rates remain

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Today representatives of the agribusiness community organisations and state and
federal government met in Melbourne for a round table discussion to work out how best to tackle
depression and stress in rural Australia.

LEONIE YOUNG, BEYOND BLUE: There's a range of options that are there now that hasn't been there
previously. For example, Beyond Blue has an information line that's available across the country,
Mensline. That's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Lifeline as well.

JEFF KENNETT: So now we're getting a priority for depression that we've never had before...

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: The Federal Government says it's investing more than $50 million over the next
five years providing more services. Depression awareness organisation Beyond Blue hopes that'll
compliment the access to psychologists now available under Medicare.

LEONIE YOUNG: We are working, Beyond Blue and other agencies, to strengthen that infrastructure so
that there is help available.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Without someone to talk to, Janet and Dave Golding fear they wouldn't have been
able to handle the stress of running a property during drought.

JANET GOLDING: When you get to the other side of it, it just makes you realise how strong you have
become as, as a couple. We've made it through that, it can't possibly get any worse. And if it
does, we're going to be there together. We'll make it through the next time too.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Genevieve Hussey with that story.