It was Saturday, 4 December, 2004. A fun Saturday night planned with friends was turned upside down for Katrina Brown (nee Drake) when she received the news from a family member that sent her paralysed.
Katrina’s father, Errol Drake, had committed suicide.
“I went so numb and fell to the ground. I was totally paralysed, I couldn’t move,”
“All I could think was, this wasn’t true, they have the wrong man, [that] it was a mistake of identity,” said Mrs Brown.
The passing of Katrina’s father came as a shock to their friends and family. No one had suspected that the black dog had been following Errol around the paddock.
Fourteen years on and Katrina still misses her Dad just as much and has learnt to live with the heartache every day.
“I constantly wish Dad didn’t feel alone as he did and that he could get help,” she said.
“I also wish dad could have received professional help. [That] he knew how easy it is to manage mental health,” said Mrs Brown.
Katrina isn’t the only one in the same boat. Many rural and regional families are struggling with mental illness like depression and the main cause is the strain of financial pressure and the struggle to keep their properties running in the long drought.
Errol Drake, 45 at the time was a well-known and respected figure in the local farming community.
Errol’s family had no idea what he was battling with, as he never talked or showed any signs of mental illness.
Mrs Brown can still recall the events that took place on that day.
“Back home at Dululu, [it] was a normal day,” she said.
“Dad did a few jobs around the place [but] he never came home,”
“That was when he stopped down the road from the local hotel, sat beside his work ute and took his own life,” Mrs Brown said.
But just like many other rural and regional families around Australia, he spoke of no troubles.
Mental illness in rural and regional families is a common factor but because of exclusivity from available resources not everyone has their chance to speak.
A study conducted by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention discovered that 147 farmers committed suicide in Queensland between 2000 and 2010.
With a large percentage of the state drought declared those numbers won’t be deteriorating anytime soon.
Queensland Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services, Cameron Dick’s suggestion for this issue is the use of online services such as telephone helplines and websites.
“We’re looking at using things like the power of the internet, the World Wide Web, to use telemedicine and telehealth,” he said.
“That’s a way to connect people to appropriate counselling support,”
“There’s been a lot of work done in our hospitals and health services in the Western part of Queensland,” said Mr Dick.
The issue here is that people struggling in rural and regional areas keep their problems under their hat.
They won’t speak to anyone about their struggles let alone pick up a phone or wait for the internet to load.
The struggle to encourage rural people (in particular men) to come forward and speak up about their troubles is more difficult than you could imagine.
Mrs Brown, having experienced her father’s death admits that she also struggles from depression herself says that the Government needs to find more ways to integrate mental health seminars into other programs.
“Rural people [in particular men], are not going to make time to drive to a seminar just about depression,” she said.
“[The Government needs to] coincide these programs in with other programs such as beef production or cropping and farming programs,”
“Information and knowledge is a powerful thing. Changing the stigma of depression, would be a great start to changing the statistics of suicide,” said Mrs Brown.
Many people across Australia experience the loss of a loved one from mental illness.
Friends and family suddenly surrendering to the black dog that’s clinging to them like shadows.
Following their every step. One moment everything is fine and the next, not so fine.
Shai Ager, is an 21-year-old girl who lives in a rural area in far North Queensland. Shai was friends with a girl who was always happy and showed no sign of depression.
“Mental health didn’t seem to be a big issue where I lived until one of my friends in high school, a girl, committed suicide,” she said.
“She seemed to be the happiest of teenagers. Always had a smile to show, never complained, was doing great with her school work and was even a sport captain,”
“Our grade was torn apart and the mourning process never really stopped. We were told she had serious depression,” said Miss Ager.
It’s quite often that this is how it takes place. It’s so ‘out of the blue’ and takes everyone by shock and leaving them with ‘guilt’ for not realising something was wrong earlier, as Katrina was left with.
People who live in regional and rural areas are often stereotyped as ‘tough’ which prevents them from speaking up about their problems.
When speaking to Mrs Katrina Brown she could easily confirm that this stereotype does play a part in preventing rural and regional people from speaking up.
“They withdraw from being sensitive to their feelings,” she said.
“They don’t want to be seen as weak, and especially do not want to be treated any differently if they were to speak up about any mental health issues,” said Mrs Brown.
The key to breaking this stigma is to raise awareness.
Along with suggesting ideas, Katrina also agreed with other strategies that could be effective in breaking the stigma.
Mrs Brown agreed on concepts such as mobile services to visit those in rural and regional properties occasionally to drop in for a cuppa and see how they are doing.
As well as that Katrina sees the “Are you OK?” notion as a wonderful idea as it can be the start of a conversation about ones mental health, which can then lead someone to getting help with a professional.
Next time you visit your local neighbour or are just dropping in to say ‘Hi’ don’t forget to ask them ‘Are you OK?’ and look out for each other.
If you or a family member need help please call or visit:
- Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
- aussiehelpers.org.au OR call 1300 665 232
- Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800