By Molly Taylor
MENTAL health advocates Mary O’Brien and Ben Brooksby were both inspired to drive change in regional communities after firsthand experience with the challenges and barriers faced by rural residents.
The pair continued their advocacy last week at the inaugural Are You Bogged and Naked? event at Penola Football Netball Club, attracting dozens of Limestone Coast residents across multiple sessions.
An initiative of the Penola Wellness Group, event facilitators and guest speakers addressed participants, highlighting the importance of encouraging people in regional communities to speak up if they or someone they knew was experiencing hardship.
A fifth generation farmer, Mr Brooksby established the unique social media movement The Naked Farmer in 2017 with help from Warrawindi Farms Mason Galpin.
Presenting his story to guests, Mr Brooksby said the mental health movement was ignited after he shared an image of himself naked in a truck full of lentils, receiving an overwhelming response from farmers wanting to share their own photos and stories.
This has resulted in a collection of raw images and stories from farmers across the nation, which have been published in a hardcover book released around a fortnight ago.
Mr Brooksby said he experienced anxiety and adverse mental health impacts in his younger years but revealed how the simple social media post turned his life around.
The quirky image originally aimed to showcase how food and fibre was sourced and produced to metropolitan residents but the cause quickly expanded.
“I went through the social media following, which was growing so rapidly, and quickly and realised it wasn’t the people from the city but farmers themselves,” he said.
“I thought about how I could use social media positively and came up with the idea of creating a space for farmers to go to vent and share stories.
“It gives them a voice where they can dot-point different challenges throughout different periods.”
Championing a similar cause, Queensland-based agronomist Ms O’Brien started publicly speaking about men’s mental health after two men from her district died by suicide almost three years ago.
With some research, Ms O’Brien believed she did not know enough about men’s mental health but was motivated to make a difference.
It led to the Are You Bogged Mate? online article written by Ms O’Brien, which went viral globally.
The article used the analogy of being bogged as a way to describe depression and mental health issues faced by those in the agricultural sector.
Ms O’Brien said addressing men’s mental health, particularly in regional Australia, inspired her to partner with Mr Brooksby in the Limestone Coast.
“The main reason I am here is to normalise it and break down the stigma,” Ms O’Brien said.
“It is normal, we all go through this at some stage and everybody does get a bit bogged.
“The conversations I have I feel are pretty powerful and some stay with me forever.”
Mr Brooksby said it was not necessarily always about helping yourself, but also others around you.
“If you believe you are one of those people who isn’t going to be impacted by mental health, it’s 100pc fine, but don’t come (to presentations) for you then, come for your mates,” he said.
“If you learn those signs and symptoms, know what to say and do, you can be the game changer.
“Statics show one in five Australians are impacted by mental health but I believe at some point in everybody’s life, we are all affected.”
Ms O’Brien and Mr Brooksby were overwhelmed with the amount of attendees and believe it is more important than ever to be on the ground connecting with rural communities face-to-face.