Graphic: RFDS helps muster up the courage to discuss mental health

RFDS helps muster up the courage to discuss mental health

Date published

20 Jul 2021

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) (RFDS) recently teamed up with renowned working dog trainer Steve Elliott to deliver a unique mental health workshop for the people of western Queensland.

The two-day workshop involved attendees training young dogs to become working dogs, while also working on developing a “toolbox” of mental health and wellbeing skills to assist in navigating the challenges of life and supporting others.

The event occurred at the Blackall Showgrounds over the weekend of July 17 and 18.

RFDS Outback Mental Health Clinical Lead Dr Tim Driscoll said the two activities had a natural synergy.

“An event like this aimed at developing skills in working dog training, while also aiming to develop skills to get through those dog days, or help someone else through, provides a great opportunity,” Dr Driscoll said.

“The connection people form with working dogs can deliver huge benefits for their overall mental health. The positive impact animals can have on people’s mental health is well documented. There is often a strong sense of trust and connection formed with working dogs.

“This connection is reciprocal. Therapy dogs have been used within mental health settings to assist with treatment with very clear and positive results. But these benefits are not confined to the therapy room.

“The companionship, trust and loyalty of a dog before, during or after a muster, around the homestead, or in this case during the training process, can make all the difference. They are important members of the crew and often an invaluable source of support.”

Over the weekend, participants took part in mental health toolbox talks, during which they learnt skills and techniques to help support good mental health.

“Anxiety and depression are common challenges faced by Australians,” Dr Driscoll said.

“With around one in five of us experiencing a mental health disorder in any one year, these conditions do not discriminate and can affect anyone. The better equipped we are to understand and deal with these challenges, the better chance we have of building our resilience and supporting those around us.

“Even those simple strategies to assist with sleep can make a huge difference to a person’s day and their overall mental and physical health.”

Mental health workshops

Diamantina Performance Dogs owner and lead trainer, Steve Elliott, said the mental health element of the weekend would complement his working dog training.

“Before any dog goes to work, we have to break them in, similar to a horse,” he said.

“This is a process of building trust in each other, and trust plays a huge role also in addressing mental health.”

Mr Elliott said while the event was open to anyone, he was keen to team up with the RFDS to create more opportunities for men to access mental health assistance and education.

“Mental health issues are not something only people in the bush deal with. But this is where I live, and these are the people I know.

“If it wasn’t for my dogs, I know it would be a lot harder for me to get out of bed in the morning, so hopefully this can help other people find that connection also.”