24th Feb 2016

Source: Mental Health Magazine (30 January 2016) http://mentalhealthmagazine.com.au/

John Harper is a dryland wheat/sheep farmer from Stockinbingal . Stockinbingal lies between Temora and Cootamundra, NSW. Married with three daughters John’s simple goal in life was to be a better than average farmer and hand over the family farm in good condition to his children. Depression nearly destroyed John’s opportunity to fulfill this simple goal.

Having no formal qualifications in mental health John speaks from personal experience. John experienced depression and spent some time reflecting on the impact and the remedies of poor mental well-being. He is convinced that simple philosophies and strategies, combined with an awareness of the importance of mental well-being, can prevent individuals sliding into depression.

Originally John became proactive because he wanted to help a mate avoid sliding into depression. In helping him John became aware that other mates were in a similar position. Indeed many individuals in rural communities are in danger of falling into depression. The climatic and financial situations are providing the conditions that promote poor mental well-being and depression. A real danger in preventing depression is the stigma, the fear we have in talking and discussing mental health. John’s strategies are all aimed at overcoming this stigma.

In 2006, he established a grassroots self-help program in Stockinbingal called Mate helping Mate. Since then, John has raised awareness of mental health issues, organised social activities, and arranged for small rural communities to visit other small communities to provide mutual support during the drought. His informal approach over a sausage sizzle and a beer has encouraged men to open up and discuss their concerns.

John believes isolation is one of the main contributors to depression. ‘Isolation leaves us with self-doubt that brings us undone … It’s bloody dangerous,’ he says. John has tried to reach out to as many isolated men as possible. In 2007, the Mate Helping Mate DVD was released in conjunction with St Vincent de Paul and John distributed thousands of copies throughout NSW. The Mate Helping Mate DVD was updated and endorsed by ‘Beyond Blue’ in 2010. A CD was made with the Rotary and the NSW Deptartment of Agriculture in 2012 and the ‘Our stories of Depression’ community produced DVD was produced on 2015. John’s concept has been such a success it is now being used as a model for other rural communities.

John talks about what he has learnt and observed since he had depression. To talk is to understand. The knowledge thus gained allows us to identify and address the problem of depression in ourselves, our families and in our mates. Thus equipped we can enjoy our lives and future.

If you are interested in the ‘Mate helping Mate’ program contact John on 0447 431 422 or at harper2725@bigpond.com

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