Saving lives by encouraging men to talk

Depression is an illness which is far too common among farmers and their families.

Former farmer from Burra in South Australia, Bill Stockman, battled the mental illness for three decades after a farm shooting accident when he was a teenager.

Bill has since turned his life around, launching ‘Ski for Life’ to help raise awareness of depression and suicide among males in rural and regional areas.

Having been on his own journey, Bill understands the struggles farmers go through on a daily basis.

“In the past, farmers worked with their families and a lot of travelling salesmen and bank managers visited the farms,” Bill said.

“These days one machine does the whole job and everything is online, which has left farmers more isolated than ever.

“This isolation leads to blokes sitting on the tractors for 24 hours a day and all they do is think. if they’re having a tough year, a lot of these thoughts aren’t positive,” he said.

Bill says depression can be a real danger to farmers when they’re working, as it prevents the ability to concentrate and leads to unproductivity.

“You lose all motivation, you can’t concentrate on your work properly because your mind wanders off everywhere else, you get anxiety and everything that comes along with it,” he said.

“I busted my hand open with an angle grinder once, it exploded in my hand because I just wasn’t concentrating,” he said.

Bill says farmers who battle severe stress and depression are hard-pressed to see a way out because they’re proud people and can’t see themselves doing anything else.

Sadly, this can lead them to take their own lives.

“After I had my own experience with depression, I actually had a couple of friends who were farmers take their own lives. They struggled with the stress of their farms and marriage breakdowns,” he said.

This was a turning point for Bill; he knew he had to raise awareness of depression and suicide among males.

So, the ‘Ski for Life’ initiative was born.

‘Ski for Life’ is a major fundraising component of the Australian Institute of Male Health and Studies (AIMHS).

The three-day, 450 km water skiing relay along the Murray River ran during March.

The fundraising enables AIMHS to set up Men’s Watch programs which equip men with the skills to support and mentor others who are doing it tough throughout rural and regional Australia.

“The goal is to give them the skills and knowledge to actually watch out for and look after other men and support them through their difficult time,” Bill said.

Some of the Men’s Watch services include running crisis help lines around Australia.

“These services are brilliant, you are guaranteed to speak to a person, whereas with a few of the others you might get put on hold, which is not ideal when someone’s thinking about taking their own life,” he said.

Bill’s advice for anyone who is struggling is to just talk to someone.

“Once, an old farmer called me and the poor thing could hardly talk, he was trying to tell me that he was struggling with post-traumatic stress. By the end of the conversation he wasn’t stuttering anymore, he was calm and was thinking rationally,” he said.

“This is why it’s so important to encourage males to talk to one another, we need to break down the barriers and get rid of the stigma around depression and suicide so we can save lives,” he said.

Bill says one way of reducing the stigma associated with depression and suicide is to educate younger generations. This will increase awareness and people will feel more comfortable seeking help.

Bill’s final piece of advice? “Next time you’re with your mate, ask him if he is okay. You could save his life.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression you can call the 24-hour Lifeline number on 13 11 14.

For more information on ‘Ski for Life’, visit their website skiforlifecom.