Extreme weather events are leading to a greater need for mental health support services in regional Tasmania, and new Rural Alive and Well head Barb Walters said the organisation is answering to this need.
Six months into her new role at RAWTas Mrs Walters is optimistic about this much-needed organisation, with mental health services for teenagers and volunteer training opportunities planned for 2020.
Mrs Walters was the former state manager of now defunct youth service Whitelion and since taking over her role at RAWTas, she has been looking at more ways it can help farming and rural communities.
"Parents on farms are struggling and the kids are growing up on these same farms...we need to build resilience and capacity for the next generation of our country folks."RAW CEO Barb Walters
"We were able to reinstate our service to Flinders Island after funding was cut, we will be focusing on a new youth program which we have received pilot funding for, and we will also be launching our first ever RAW volunteer program "Mates for Raw" to expand our reach and use trained volunteers to give us a hand and help more people," she said.
The planned Next Gen RAW youth program will be an outreach service similar to that already offered but with a specific focus on youth aged 13 and up, run by a youth worker.
"There is a really high need. We found a demand that was unmet, young people living in rural and remote areas don't actually have a lot of support services.
"These parents on farms are struggling and the kids are growing up on these same farms, so we need to build resilience and capacity for the next generation of our country folks." RAW services overall have seen a spike in demand, with extreme weather events such as drought and bushfire leading to increased need in regional Tasmanian areas.
Mrs Walters said this is particularly so on the East Coast, but the North West region also strongly relied on RAW services.
Immediate crisis management was offered on site after the Fingal bushfires, but general phone and outreach services have also had a steady demand. She said financial stress from drought was a major concern for farmers, but other issues such as relationship stress, loneliness and substance abuse were impacting.
"We are also finding that it is not only the farmers that call us for our support, it is the wider community as well," she said.
"The drought has a far-reaching effect and while farmers are doing it tough, our small communities are also doing it tough."
Mrs Walters said current bushfires could trigger trauma from past bushfires, and that other past trauma also tended to arise during these stressful events.
"Our staff are really busy because of the fires but this initial stress also triggers other trauma," she said.
"We find that a lot of our work around natural disasters and incidents comes down the track, not during the immediate crisis but when everything quietens down and people find themselves alone with their thoughts and need that person to talk things through with.
"Our work will be ongoing. We [enter] crisis areas reminding people that we are there, making sure that people know that RAW is a phone call away."
RAW Tas' main outreach program provides a 24/7 phone service that provides a listening ear but also helps individuals according to their personal needs, putting them into contact specialised counselling or the Rural Financial Counselling Service Tasmania.
Other programs for RAW include a partnership with the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council to start a similar outreach program for fisherman and their families, and a three-year peer support program at Bell Bay Aluminium. It is also offering free older mental health first aid training courses at St Helens on February 12 and 13. Mrs Walters said suicide prevention was still an aim of RAW. "I wish I could say it is fine and that I don't know of any suicides since I have started but that is not the case," she said. "Services are few and far between, waiting lists are longer and longer. The rural community are stoic, but it is about breaking down that stigma that you can talk to a mate."