Nelly in Orange, Australia – Chapter 7

We are excited to be connecting with Dr. Nelly Oelke throughout the course of her study leave in Australia! Dr. Oelke is an Advisory Committee member for the Rural Health Services Research Network of BC and will be continuing her work on exploring the mental health impacts of climate change events in rural communities among men and adults who are over the age of 50 at the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health. Stay tuned at the end of every month to learn more about the evolution of her work in Orange, Australia.

November 28, 2019

Over the last two and a half months I have been working on site at the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health (CRRMH), part of the University of New Castle. The Centre is located on the original Bloomfield Hospital site, a psychiatric hospital built in the 1920s. In addition to its old heritage-listed buildings, it also includes the Orange Hospital, a modern facility that opened in 2011. Many of the older buildings are no longer being used or are used for office space for various healthcare organizations and rural university campuses. One program that still uses the older facilities is a residential rehab program for substance use. The campus is lovely with lots of trees and shrubbery, and complete with a golf course. There are also lots of kangaroos that run around from time to time. In fact, the other day I needed to stop for a couple of them, including a joey in the pouch, as they hopped across the road right in front of me on my bike.

Last week I spent some time with the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) Team in their quarterly face-to-face team meetings. A number of RAMHP Coordinators were unable to attend the meeting as they were involved in providing support for fires in and around their communities. Each of the Coordinators who were in attendance presented a short TED talk on a key project/initiative they were implementing in their local area. Here are two highlights I would like to share.

First, an initiative called “One Book, One Community.” This was a total community book club though actually, a regional book club. The book that were carefully chosen were relevant to various age groups. It was coupled with materials for discussion, with the idea that groups would get together in various communities to discuss the book. The book club holds a wrap-up event with the author of the book attending, with a variety of discussion, and other activities. The wrap-up event will also be broadcast online to ensure that communities that are not as close can participate. The purpose of the Book Club is social connection and conversations across the community.

Second, was the emphasis on caring for yourself as a RAMHP Coordinator. The current situation in New South Wales is tough with the significant drought, as this morning I heard that they estimate that 99.8% of NSW is in drought. Along with the bushfires, these issues are increasing the number of mental health concerns being experienced by farmers, business owners, community members in general, and of course those that are working to support the people impacted. Information from the Recovery Rocket program was shared—not all activities are necessarily appropriate, but it provides some great proactive approaches to look after one’s self.

This morning I attended the CRRMH’s Community Advisory Committee. There were about 20 people in attendance from various rural communities across the State. They represented various organizations and shared what things were happening in their organization and community with regards to initiatives to support those experiencing rural adversity. Two key things that were shared included the following: 1) animal welfare, being a complex issue given the drought, challenges in stock management, and other factors; and 2) the importance of sustainability of rural communities. There is a significant emphasis on supporting local economies through a marketing campaign and website encouraging Australians to buy from the “bush.” Also, when individuals or organizations in urban areas wish to donate to those impacted by fires or drought, there are umbrella organizations that work with local charitable organizations to understand local needs. Instead of donating clothing, water, or other things, they have a website where people can support the purchase of different products that are needed by the community and then they are purchased locally, helping local businesses who are also significantly impacted by the drought. Both of these issues were also discussed at the RAMHP face-to-face meeting.

Finally, the CRRMH also celebrated the launch of their new men’s website, in the last few days. The website was developed in conjunction with a Men’s Community Advisory Committee and has been under development for the last 6-12 months. It focuses specifically on men and supporting their mental health and wellbeing. Check it out!