Graphic: The Naked Farmer - mental health
“It takes guts to get your gear off and it takes guts to talk about mental health."
This is the mantra behind ‘The Naked Farmer’, the brainchild of Ben Brooksby, a fifth-generation farmer currently based in Penola, South Australia.
In 2017, the 29-year-old shared a photo on Instagram showing himself naked in a truck full of lentils, with the initial goal of promoting Australian farmers.
This one tasteful nude photo received a massive response and has now evolved into a nationwide movement, encouraging farmers to share revealing photos and stories, raising awareness and funds for mental health.
“The whole aim back then was to educate people on where their food and fibre comes from and the hardship farmers go through to provide food for us all,” he said.
“Within a week, it blew up. So, I thought I really wanted to use this platform and that’s when it transformed into raising awareness around mental health.”
When Ben was a young boy, he struggled with anxiety, to the point where he felt overwhelmed walking into his local grocery store.
It wasn’t until he sought professional help later in life that he learned more about managing and embracing mental health challenges.
“For me growing up, I had no idea what anxiety was – I thought I was just scared of people, and it didn’t make sense to me until I was about 20,” he said.
“I think the biggest barrier is learning about it for starters – a lot of people don’t understand or know they have symptoms or challenges themselves. Then it’s about having that help accessible for people.
“Farmers often work so hard that they push through their problems. I’ve seen a change in the stigma, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
What started out as a social media campaign has ended up as a not-for-profit organisation with a huge following online.
As The Naked Farmer movement continues to grow, Ben meets people from across the country who want to bare it all for mental health.
“I see the ripple effect that mental health issues can have in our communities, families and our friends,” he said.
“We all play our part, and this movement has been a way to get on people’s mobile screens, get their attention to stop and learn a little bit along the way.
“Seeing a naked farmer on your social media definitely gets people talking.”
In 2021, through its various fundraising efforts selling merchandise and calendars, The Naked Farmer raised more than $20,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
“We’ve always been raising money for the RFDS because we know the impact they have across Australia. Their footprint is huge and we appreciate their boots on the ground amongst these communities,” he said.
“It’s not me, it’s the whole Naked Farmer community supporting this and people buying the calendar. Everyone deserves a pat on the back for raising that money.”
Gearing up communities
The RFDS has recently launched a Mental Health First Aid training program for remote communities, providing practical skills for outback residents and workers to support family and friends in need. The program kicked off in August with an inaugural session in William Creek, SA.
The First Aid program is another element of the RFDS’s broader Mental Health & Wellbeing Service, which provided more than 2,700 consultations across SA and NT over the last 12 months.
“As awareness about our Wellbeing and Mental Health team has grown, we’ve found that we’re servicing more communities and doing more clinics than ever,” RFDS Mental Health Service Manager, Justine Cooney said.
“We see people who live and work on stations and in remote communities, others who are passing through, and people who are part of Aboriginal communities.
“People often forget how important it is to maintain your own mental health and wellbeing when you’re living remotely, but it’s just as important, if not more important, than for those living in the city.”
How can I refer myself or someone I know?
If you, or someone you know needs help, the RFDS Wellbeing & Mental Health Service is available to adults and young people in remote South Australia and the Northern Territory.