As many near the end of what has no doubt been a tough year working in WA's agricultural sector, the importance of farmers and rural communities coming together to recharge and recalibrate their mental health has perhaps never been more important.
Due to an increasing level of need, regional and rural local councils are also being increasingly called upon to expand their role in supporting the mental health of their communities.
One example of this is the Shire of Moora, which, due to many of its farmers anticipating an early finish to harvest this year, has organised a suite of activities for community members, in the lead up to the festive season.
Shire of Moora president Tracey Lefroy said the idea was to provide a platform for the local community to come together and enjoy the holiday season in an affordable and family-oriented manner.
"The motivation for organising these events stems from a desire to foster a sense of togetherness and celebration, especially given the difficult seasonal conditions," Ms Lefroy said
"Rather than directly hosting these events, our Shire has taken on a facilitative role.
"Some of the exciting events on the horizon include twilight markets, an outdoor cinema and picnic night and the annual Moora street party.
"Additionally, there will be opportunities for the community to participate in social tennis activities in both Miling and Moora."
In remote and rural locations where accessing mental health services is often a formidable challenge, Ms Lefroy said emphasising the importance of informal gatherings, social sporting events and community networks was essential.
"Farmers and rural communities face a multitude of external threats that extend beyond their control, leading to feelings of disempowerment in managing the success of their enterprises," she said.
"It is essential to acknowledge that the challenges faced by farmers during poor seasons have a ripple effect throughout rural communities.
"Local businesses, including agricultural enterprises, cafes and workwear shops are significantly impacted by these hardships.
"Therefore, it is imperative to establish a comprehensive support system that extends to all members of the community, recognising that their wellbeing is interdependent."
Acknowledging that local governments were not necessarily geared towards delivering mental health services for their respective communities, Ms Lefroy said the Shire of Moora was still a strong advocate for and supporter of community events and activities that supported and enhanced the mental health and wellbeing of their community members.
Highlighting the Moora Triathlon and 'Annual Bed Race' as examples, Ms Lefroy said these events were popular and well supported by members of their local community and provided a "significant safety valve".
As rural and remote local government areas often having to content with a limited rates base constraining their capacity to offer a comprehensive range of services, Ms Lefroy said these shires did not typically have the funding or scope necessary to directly provide qualified, safe mental health services.
However to empower local councils to take on a more significant role in promoting mental health, Ms Lefroy said it was imperative that State and Federal governments provide the required financial resources.
"By doing so, councils can develop and sustain the services needed by their communities, thus making a substantial difference in addressing mental health challenges at the grassroots level," Ms Lefroy said.
Sport and recreation
With the mental health benefits of participating in sport and recreational activities well-known, the under-investment and disappearance of some of these teams and facilities from rural and remote areas no doubt has had damaging flow-on effects for people in the affected communities.
Providing opportunities for a sense of belonging, social interaction and physical activity, safeguarding these sporting groups and recreational facilities is vital to maintaining vibrancy in the regions.
However, for local sports and recreational activities to last in the long-term, Ms Lefroy said sustainable funding mechanisms were neeeded.
"This doesn't merely entail financial support for building new infrastructure, but also provisions to ensure local organisations possess the resources necessary to maintain this infrastructure over time," Ms Lefroy said.
Whilst the Shire does not receive direct operational support from the government to help conduct local sports, the State government does provide local government areas with funding grants for capital replacement, upgrades and renewal.
With the Shire of Moora engaged in its own comprehensive sport and recreation review, its primary goal is to create an integrated sports precinct that accommodates a diverse range of sporting activities.
"This approach seeks to minimise the financial burden of maintaining the precinct by strategically sharing resources across various sports," Ms Lefroy said.
"For example, by developing multi-purpose facilities such as kitchens and clubrooms, these amenities can be efficiently utilised by numerous sports and community groups.
"This collaborative approach not only leads to a reduction in operational costs but also fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility."
Community resource and neighbourhood centres
With more than 32,000 Western Australians using the State's neighbourhood and community resource centres in an average week their role in helping to connect and support the mental health of regional and rural communities cannot be understated.
A 2021 sector survey undertaken by Linkwest (the representative body for WA's neighbourhood and community resource centres) revealed the network of WA's centres host more than 1200 community groups and services each week, again highlighting the pivotal role they play.
"They are quiet achievers as they bring about connections and solutions every day without fuss or fanfare," Ms Lefroy said.
Linkwest chief executive Jane Harwood said the centres were safe and trusted in their communities, providing a place where people knew they can find holistic care and connection.
"Staff and volunteers understand the history and context of a place and are deeply connected to their communities and how local events are affecting them - that's particularly important when the impact of floods, fires and drought may be felt locally and not recognised outside that community," Ms Harwood said.
"They can show empathy that visiting services and organisations may not be able to show in the same way."
Ms Harwood said another benefit of the CRCs was that they were non-stigmatising places, as no referral was needed to seek mental health support.
"Centres are not badged as a 'mental health' service, meaning that there is no judgement made on people entering them and people report feeling safe to go there," Ms Harwood said.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, 96 per cent of WA's centres continued to provide services, with 78pc successfully delivering their services online.
Ms Harwood said due to significant the need, staff often put in unpaid hours to respond to demand and due to the absence of an alternative.
Linkwest was working hard to raise the profile of the State's CRCs which were "undervalued and under recognised" for their role and impact on mental health, she said.
"Centres should also be engaged as a key partner by the specialist mental health services funded to deliver mental health programs and supports to our regions," Ms Harwood said.
"Grants and contracts to specialist service providers need to include costs of room hire and administration that can be passed on to the local centre.
"Too often centres are asked to provide these for free to visiting services."
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