Are you bogged mate?

Martin Colbert VIC
Photograph by Martin Colbert VIC

Are you bogged mate?

I spend a lot of time raising awareness about spray drift but recent events have compelled me to talk about something that disturbs me even more than spray drift.

I have spent my whole life working in rural and remote Australia and always around country blokes; working with them, for them, and beside them. My father was one, my brother is one, and most of my dearest friends are country blokes. I have always worked in male dominated occupations and that certainly doesn’t make me special but I believe it has given me a good understanding of rural men and it has definitely given me a deep and profound respect for them.

So when I see country blokes facing challenges like never before, I need to say something because I know none of them will. I’m talking about rural men’s mental health and more specifically, rural male suicide. Yes, that mongrel black dog that sneaks in when you least expect it, grabs all of your rational thoughts, buries them somewhere you can’t find them, and without you or those close to you noticing, it gradually pulls you into a hole, a bog hole.

Tristan Baldock SA
Photograph by Tristan Baldock SA

As I recently watched a massive line of four-wheel drives file slowly in and park reverently outside a small country town church, something in my heart changed forever. They emerged, dressed in their Sunday best; some of these blokes I didn’t even know owned a tie. It was a really busy time of year but they stopped all of those important farm jobs to come and say goodbye and pay their respects to a mate who decided to hand in his time sheet way too early. As the minister lamented quotes from the bible about ‘a time for everything; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to reap’, you know the one. All I could think was, these are farmers, no one knows better than this crowd about planting and reaping but I’m stuffed if I could find any reason for this man to die at his own hand in the prime of his life. And judging by the faces on the country men around me, neither could they.

Ryan Milgate Victoria A
Photograph by Ryan Milgate VIC

The statistics are everywhere, Australian males between 15 and 45 years of age are one of the highest risk categories for suicide. Men are 3 to 4 times more likely to take their own life than women and the further you move from the coast into regional, rural, and remote Australia, the more that figure climbs. Why? Why are my country heroes cashing in their chips early? The experts will tell you that that it’s due to reasons like ‘the isolation’, ‘men don’t talk about emotions’, ‘they don’t know how to express their feelings’…. Well I call bullshit! I don’t have a psychology degree of any kind, I’m not a doctor of any type, I haven’t studied mental health at all but I do know country men. And this is what I do know… country men are the toughest, hardest working, funniest, most sincere, totally dependable, thoroughly genuine people you will ever meet. So don’t sit in your university office in the city and tell me that you know rural men.

Duncan Hill NSW
Photograph by Duncan Hill NSW

As a rule I don’t think rural men are challenged by ‘the isolation’. I think most actually thrive on it, they enjoy the peace and tranquillity that surrounds them. They enjoy the time they spend tending the earth and it’s creatures. They are nourished and challenged by nature and all it’s hardships. Everyone needs interaction with other people but isolation only really becomes a major problem when coupled with depression.

Rob Russell NSW
Photograph by Rob Russell NSW

True: rural men ‘don’t talk about emotions’, that’s not how they are wired and they never will be so stop expecting it of them.

True: rural men don’t ‘express their feelings’ in the same way that inner city society expects them to.

Let’s face it, rural men are never going to be like their soft pink-handed city counterparts (no disrespect to city blokes intended, purely a comparison!). Country blokes aren’t going to join a men’s group or catch up with mates to discuss their feelings, relationships, or finances over a double decaf latte at some hipster café that has kale on the menu. That’s not how they roll.

Andrew Hearne VIC
Photograph by Andrew Hearne VIC

Rural men let off steam (release emotions) differently. They play footy, go camping, shooting, fishing, ride horses or dirt bikes, go water skiing, have a few beers with mates, they might even throw a few harmless punches with a mate after too many beers or on the footy field. These are just some of the release valves for rural men and they need to be supported and encouraged to do whatever it is that gives them release. Don’t let the pressure build up inside.

Brett Shearwood NSW
Photograph by Brett Shearwood NSW

There are multitudes of factors that lead to depression in rural men – droughts, floods, rising input costs, falling commodity prices, pressure from banks, family pressure, feeling compelled to stay on the farm, etcetera. Today rural men and particularly farmers have additional pressures to previous generations. They are expected to be soil scientists, agronomists, hydrologists, accountants, meteorologists, chemical experts, mechanics, engineers, marketers, environmentalists and the list goes on. Add to that a society that tells them they need to share 50% parenting of their children, support their partner in her career, share the housework, and all the other gender equality stuff. Before anyone yells at me for dragging women back to the 1950s, I’m merely comparing the dramatic change in just one generation. Sorry fellas, you aren’t getting out of cleaning the dunny that easily!

Gavin Dal Broi NSW
Photograph by Gavin Dal Broi NSW

The suite of skills needed to live and work in the rural sector has never been greater and yet the divide been city and country has never been bigger. Never before has agriculture been so scorned by city dwellers who view farmers as environmental vandals and poisonous food producers. And if all that isn’t enough pressure for rural blokes, what about adding a sick child, the loss of a loved one or a marriage breakdown into the equation? I don’t think we need another study to find out why rural men are struggling.

Millions of dollars are spent every year on rural men’s mental health, there are endless support services available, and yet the suicides keep happening. I certainly don’t have the answers but I know that most rural men will not seek help or talk to someone when they are struggling.

Ryan Milgate Victoria B
Photograph by Ryan Milgate VIC

I like to use analogies to explain things so here is my spin on it.

We have all been bogged at some point. It might have been just a sticky patch of the road or paddock where the vehicle stopped moving, you panicked, threw it into four-wheel drive and got out. Maybe you needed low range, maybe you had to winch yourself out, but you got out, you got through it. But what happens when you get properly bogged? When it’s down to the running boards, sitting on the chassis, you are not getting out of this one easily – that’s the kind of bogged I mean. So what do you do? Do you burn the vehicle? Hell no!

Andrew Sargent SA
Photograph by Andrew Sargent SA

When you have finished swearing, praying and walking around in circles scratching your head; you know this is as bad as it gets, you are going to have to ask for help. Oh the shame! The whole district is going to be laughing about it, your mates will bring it up for years (probably ever!). You don’t want anyone to know but you have to get help.

Airlie Kelly NSW
Photograph by Airlie Kelly NSW

It’s a bit the same with depression, but it’s not funny like when you get bogged in mud. Most of the time we get ourselves through the rough patches in life but when depression strikes, you need proper medical care to get you out of this bog hole. The more bogged you get the harder it is to ask for help. In your head, you will justify to yourself with a million excuses why you can’t or won’t ask for help. None of those excuses are any comfort as I watch a grieving widow, a young family and a whole community grapple to find answers and repeatedly ask ‘why didn’t he tell someone’.

MOBrien 10.05.2017
Photograph by Mary O’Brien QLD

 

You don’t want anyone to know that you aren’t coping and you don’t want to talk to some counsellor that doesn’t know you, I get that. But please, for the sake of your family and your precious rural communities, reach out to somebody, anybody, your partner, your mates, or even me. We will support you. You are only bogged, it’s ok, we all get bogged but most importantly, you can definitely get out of it. Don’t destroy your vehicle just because you are bogged to the ass. Tell someone you are feeling bogged. If your son was struggling, would you want him to ask for help?

Adam Dellwo NSW
Photograph by Adam Dellwo NSW

I promise you there is always a way out of the bog hole and there are plenty of people ready to help you. Don’t choose a permanent solution for a temporary problem. We have already lost too many good men.

#areyouboggedmate

Mary O’Brien

January 2018

Rowan Hender VIC
Photograph by Rowan Hender VIC

Places you can go to get a tow when you are bogged

Black Dog Institute

Beyond Blue

Tie Up The Black Dog

Lifeline

 


 

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35 thoughts on “Are you bogged mate?

    1. thank you for this article on Are you bogged? i grew up in the country and still feel a country girl at heart. I have watched the black dog visiting country men, some too stoic to ask for help and families heartbroken when a life ends. Any program that gets country people together to talk and laugh is essential just as essential as water, or other medical help. Maybe one way to help is to always reach out even if you get a gruff reply or told to mind your own business, there is always a way out when the black dog visits, To those who the black dog visits, take the first step and just tell your family, friend or anyone who will listen. Push the black dog away from your door there are better days ahead.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I like your article. It is necessary to bring suicide & mental illness into the light. Please dont assume rural men won’t talk about their feelings. Sometimes they will, when given some space. I had a really deep talk to a fellow I barely knew. In the middle of the drought. He said his wife was taking him to the doctor, as he just wasn’t right. To the female partners out there, make the time. Insist you sit down, just the two of you, every now & then. Have a coffee, tea or beer & listen. Our men need nurturing just as much as the kids & our ambitions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, some certainly will talk but sadly many won’t. It is like you said, they need the space. Good on you for being the kind of person that a bloke felt comfortable enough to talk with.

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  2. As a “Farmers Wife” I totally understand this article, I too have felt the desperation of watching my husband at rock bottom feeling there is not much good left in their life. I think the problem lies in that we are isolated but not so much physically. The rift between city or towns and country has widened incredibly. Some days it feels like “why are we bothering to work 24/7 to provide food to these ungrateful people”. We miss out on family get togethers, holidays, Kids events and spending time with the family and almost weep in rage as Friday night comes and they scream down the roads in their polished 4WD from the city for their long weekend, coming to a sharp halt in front of the herd of cows that we are trying to cross the road. Then push through throwing expletives and hand gestures because we held them up 5 minutes of their weekend.” To make it worse the politicians have shown that they don’t give a stuff and often even our extended families have zero support or compassion. I truly believe though that these trials do make us stronger and better people. We have a clear perspective of what is important in life, which sounds like a huge clique but it’s true. Our humble life provides things that money cant buy which I hope that these desperate farmers realize, there is always a reason to keep going, nothing is worth the pain that suicide causes. Those people that turn up at your funeral are all reasons to live.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article Mary! My husband had depression once, nothing was going right and he became overwhelmed. I used to worry about him going up the paddock and not coming home for hours. He got through it and he knows now how to deal with ‘getting bogged’!
    A lady suggested, in the middle of the last drought, that a bus could travel around and pick fellas up and take them into town for a night out.
    Another suggestion is, bull sales and Ckearing sales!! They are like Tupperware parties for women. Men go for the outing and to see who buys what! Who cares if they dont want to buy anything, they go to support the people selling and have a chat and a cup of tea.
    In NZ recently there is a spate of suicides due to droughts and dairy downturns etc etc. The local police and a bunch of helpers go to the sales and farm visits and talk to people and issue whistles.” Whistle if you need help!” Figuratively, I’m sure ,or use them with the dogs!!
    I watch and listen. Its what people arent saying that matters!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Please know that there are plenty of us city folks that really appreciate what you do for us! You all are the backbone of this country! Without you we would not survive. Please never give up, you are needed!! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Depression can be a bastard to cope with, different individuals will respond in their own way, based upon their own coping mechanisms and emotional experiences in their lives. Stress factors can build up and overwhelm a man or woman without them being aware of their own stress tolerance being overwhelmed. The culture of male self reliance as a farmer would compound the social stigma of being seen to be not coping with the stresses. I do hope that culture is shifting these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Born and bred in the bush, now living in the city for work….but my heart will always be in my small country town and its people. Some of us really do care, love and appreciate rural Australia and the work of farmers and other primary producers. So much heart breaking truth in this article, a good read. I will always care…..💕

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great read, very true.
    I was sacked during the big drought for staying with a block who’s was going to end it, couldn’t justify it on my time sheet.
    I then organised a bus trip for farmers & got it sponsored for 3 days, I still have letters from wives thanking me, it was the least I could do.
    Keep up the good work Mary

    Ray Platt

    Liked by 1 person

  8. First of all thank you for writing this article and using such a great analogy. I agree the problem needs urgent remedy. I don’t see how declaring that men are unchanging in their way of relating and their ability to talk really helps. If we are going to reduce male suicide then things have to change. If all the usual activities you mentioned like footy etc still bring us the same appalling rate of suicide then we need to do something differently. The real questions are what are the real causes and what remedies would work? Perhaps we could get the so called soft handed academics out there looking for success stories while the farmers do their never ending jobs? Not every farming community round the world suffers high suicide rates. Why? What do they have that we don’t? Let’s get this sorted urgently.

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  9. Good article Mary. I love the analogy, and I love that you care! Blokes, especially the tough ones, think they need to come up with all the answers themselves. I think partners and friends can help a lot by just asking ‘how are you going?’, and listening and caring! It’s helped me! Blokes don’t always need or want someone to give them the answers, they just need someone to care while they work it out!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for your blog. and to those who responded with suggestions. It’s a ghastly reality…one I’ve been thinking about and exploring for a while … what will change the brain’s direction when it takes that path? What will interfere/jolt it back to the +ve/laughterand the craziness that life is… etc

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you Mary, for a great article.
    The comments are commendable but the solution evasive….the weight of expectancy of people who are diligent to life and their work , to perform or meet expectations ( especially their own )can become insurmountable..
    Life needs to be ” simplified” , less complicated , more grounded to levels of gratified acheivement.
    As an exmple….to have the sense of watching your stock breeding program succeeding without the intense and complex competition and comment there is these days., not to mention the scrutitny of management . Sure , some stuff is necessary, we know , but add up ALL the scrutiny of animal and landholders responsibilities etc these days and how does it pan out…?
    God Bless you Mary. Stay strong with your voice, it lends much encouragement.
    much LOVE.. Judy

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I get a sense of déjà vu when talking about this just helping out a neighbor at the moment and for him to know that someone cares just might help,I know it helped for me when you’re not sure even if you will be here at a moment that changes your life forever. The strength you draw from who knows where,are the fine lines we walk at times and when you realise that, your family and friends all of a sudden become more important than work and the stresses of it become less. I found myself thinking a lot and to this day I am probably more of a thinker than ever which I say has let to my success positive thoughts and attitude will overcome any bad situation.As we will never know the answers we have to find the strength to work through it ourselves. These days at the end of the day I say #@ck work have a beer smoke a pipe tomorrow is another day enjoy the sunrise and the sunset and enjoy the time in between and if you think your bogged put in 4wheel drive reverse back and take a different route who knows it just might be the answe you’re looking for worked for me.

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  13. The stakes of business failure are high in the bush and as a results
    Farmers’ goals are very high.
    Farmers greatest risk is dealing with buisiness failure.
    In the city many services business require little capital to open and shut. Due to their flexible business opportunities city people can fold up a business and restart a new one without a great deal of stress when compared to a farm business.
    Farmers have businesses that requires large amounts of capital with very little diversity available to them. Their lifestyle is linked to the business.
    If a farmer fails in business the uphevel is daunting and results in a high suicide rate and a high rate of depression.
    The greatest challenge is preventing and dealing with business failure in the bush.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I live in SWQ. A single white male employed. It is almost impossible to get even basic physical healthcare in my location. For a simple spinal X-Ray I eventually after several trips of 300Km each time was informed the local facility wasn’t staffed to do such a simple procedure, so I went to Cooma in NSW to get the job done. Since then other basic referrals cannot be sorted out. Why would one even bother trying to seek help for mental health. Not everyone in remote and isolated areas are farmers/graziers….but the truth is, we simple do not count.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you make a good point, we do struggle to get enough health care in rural areas. Please know that you absolutely do count, all rural men are impacted by similar issues. For me it is about ALL men in rural areas.

      Like

  15. Hi Mary,
    Top article with great analogy. I’ve stopped using the by line: ‘Suicide, a permanent solution for a temporary problem’ Because when people are really low they have said to me, “At least it is a solution” I’ve changed to: ‘Suicide, a permanent disaster for a temporary problem’ Because suicide is a disaster which leaves a heap of wreckage in the lives of many individuals, and an ugly scar on the communities we love. I pray, “Lord, give us eyes to see when our mates are bogged, and a heart brave and caring enough to call”, so that none of us have to live with, ‘If only I’d…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thanks Mary, We have all been touched by this terrible black dog. “if only they knew how valuable they are, and how much we care about them”. There is so many things we would have liked them to know. Thanks for caring enough to write this.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi Mary,
    Thank you for writing this powerful article.
    I lost my dad in year 2000 to suicide. He was a farmer and i watched him struggling with depression. He was conditioned to fixing everything himself so for him going to the doctor was a sign of weakness.
    I think its so important to educate country blokes about depression so they know the signs and I believe your being bogged analogy is brilliant in that regard. As my dad used to say “there are plenty of cernals after the war”…
    K

    Like

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