RFDS Mental Health First Aid training

Mental health training meets the outback

Date published

23 Nov 2022

The RFDS recently launched Mental Health First Aid training for remote communities, providing practical skills for outback residents and workers to support family and friends.

The program kicked off in August in William Creek, SA, before running in partnership with the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA) in Katherine in October.

According to the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, people living in rural and remote Australia are up to twice as likely to die by suicide as people living in major cities, with rates of suicide increasing with the level of remoteness.

RFDS Senior Mental Health Clinician, Nigel Wyatt said the two-day workshops equip participants with the knowledge and confidence to recognise, connect and respond to someone experiencing a mental health problem or mental health crisis.

“Dealing with the constant challenges of remote living can result in prolonged physical and emotional stress,” he said.

“Equipping families and co-workers with the skills and knowledge to identify and help others in mental distress is yet another important way the Flying Doctor can support those who live and work in the outback.

“Improving mental health literacy in rural and remote communities will help save lives.”

Nigel Wyatt, RFDS
Photo: RFDS Senior Mental Health Clinician, Nigel Wyatt during an activity with Mental Health First Aid participants.

Felicity Fulcher of Aroona Station in the NT has spent years living and working on stations in remote Australia.

She understands how the isolation and unpredictable nature of farming can impact people in various ways and jumped at the opportunity to attend the Katherine workshop to build her capability to help others in times of need.

“Living and working remotely can be challenging in lots of ways – everyone works so hard and sometimes we’re not very good at taking time out for ourselves,” she said.

“A lot of people who come and work on remote stations are a long way from family and friends. It’s important to be aware and available to them if they approach you.

“It’s been a really information-packed program – we’ve learned about all the different things that come under the mental health banner, whether it’s depression, anxiety, stress or other illnesses and disabilities. I think all of us will be better equipped to have more mental health awareness.”

Mental Health First Aid - RFDS
Photo: NTCA Project Coordinator, Annabelle Keith with participant Kate Murphy of Newcastle Waters Station.

NTCA Chief Executive Will Evans said providing station communities with Mental Health First Aid skills is vital to the prosperity of the industry and people’s livelihoods.

“The pastoral industry is one of those industries where real adversity is often quite common, so this opportunity to engage with members and give them practical tools in meeting the challenges of mental health in a remote setting is really important,” he said.

“One of the things we know about mental health is that early intervention is key. So being able to spot if you’ve got a staff, family or community member struggling is vital in being able to help them and this is the impotence behind the training.”

The Mental Health First Aid program is another element of the RFDS’s broader Mental Health & Wellbeing Service, which provided more than 2,700 consultations across South Australia and the Northern Territory over the last 12 months.

The Service supports people who live and work on stations and in remote communities, people who are part of Aboriginal communities, and others who are passing through.

Delivered by a team of experienced psychologists, mental health nurses, social workers and Aboriginal community liaison officers, the RFDS provides short- or long-term support for times of mild distress, or more in-depth support and care coordination for conditions such as anxiety, depression and more complex illnesses.

The Mental Health First Aid program delivered by the RFDS and NTCA in Katherine was funded by a grant from Australia Post.

Mental Health First Aid participants - RFDS
Photo: Nigel Wyatt (RFDS), Dr Gregory Bull (program facilitator), Annabelle Keith (NTCA) and Isobel Heffernan (NTCA) with participants.

What are you keeping under your hat?

If your hat’s feeling heavy, your Flying Doctor is here to help. The RFDS Wellbeing & Mental Health Service is available to adults and young people in remote South Australia and the Northern Territory.

South Australia
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Northern Territory
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It’s important to note that the RFDS Mental Health & Wellbeing Service is not a 24/7 crisis line. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please contact: