ACROSS 27 years in education - as a teacher and deputy school principal - Renee Knapp became very good at identifying signs of mental health stress in her young charges.
But she was frustrated that the infrastructure and services did not exist in her community of Boyup Brook to provide vulnerable teenagers with the support they needed.
It also struck her that in all her years as a professional educator with responsibility in this area, she had never networked with other mental health professionals, such as community nurses or the local police, to set up more prevention and support solutions in the town.
It just never turned out that way.
But it got her thinking.
"By 2016, as a deputy school principal, I was getting very frustrated that I could identify the students who were struggling with mental health issues, but there wasn't enough support in Boyup Brook to get them the help they needed,'' Ms Knapp said.
"I could also identify other people in the community who were passionate about mental health.
"I wanted to develop an approach to community mental health that would bring all these people together."
Ms Knapp is now five years into the process of slowly stepping out of education and into a new career as an independent consultant.
For the past 2.5 years, she has been an ambassador for the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association and is a regular speaker at conferences on mental health and wellbeing.
She created her first community mental health action team (CoMHAT) in Boyup Brook to start addressing the gap in support services in the town and help prioritise mental health care in the community.
She is now building a digital course to take CoMHAT further afield, is in talks with a couple of communities keen to start the process, and has a four-step framework - available on her website - for other interested communities to investigate.
As a mental health consultant, she works with rural schools, townships and regional shires, offering consultations and ongoing support, as needed, to create their own CoMHAT.
Often, she supports passionate individuals wanting to make a difference in their local community, as they are often the ones who drive this change.
The action teams aim to create long-term, sustainable and locally-driven strategies, built on an action plan strong and detailed enough to attract meaningful grant funding to see them through.
Added to her busy professional life, Ms Knapp is busy in the family's sheep and cropping business, run with her husband Courtney Knapp, on their third-generation family farm, 40 kilometres out of town.
And she is a parent to three teenage boys, 19-year-old Jesse, Zac, 17 and Shae, 14.
So she sees the pressures on farming families from all sides - particularly now when they are being felt so acutely.
Across 1000 hectares, the Knapps run 5000 Merino and White Suffolk sheep and a 250ha cropping program, sown to canola and barley cash crops and oats for feed.
They sell sheep each year through Elders or shipping companies, but it's been tougher going lately.
"We love living on the land, but it has been a challenging time,'' Ms Knapp said.
"We didn't sell our wethers last year and are struggling to get things moving this year.
"It concerns me, across the wider population, what this means for the community, because it will affect depression rates and suicide numbers.
"Running and attending community meetings and local events, you can see people are struggling, both financially and mentally.
"I have certainly seen a shift in my husband's mood and he sees it when he is out talking to other farming people.''
With all this happening around her, Ms Knapp decided to take the next leap in her professional journey about two months ago.
She resigned from working as a teacher and deputy principal at the Boyup Brook District High School to concentrate on developing her consultancy business, Think Effective, turning a passion project into a business reality.
"I wanted to do something beyond the school walls,'' she said.
"All across rural communities, there is so much talk about mental health services being in crisis and here in Boyup Brook, we are still trying to find support services.
"We have amazing, hard-working mental health people who are desperately wanting to find solutions, but they are burnt out from trying to keep up with demand.''
Both as a mental health ambassador and teacher, Ms Knapp was all too aware of the mental health burden in Boyup Brook and other regional towns - and what its ultimate outcome could be for those who couldn't reach the support they needed.
According to Suicide Prevention Australia, the latest data shows more than 3000-plus Australians died by suicide in 2022 and more than seven million Australian adults were close to someone who had died by suicide or attempted suicide.
It means the national annual suicide rate equates to more than eight people per 100,000 head of the population - with particularly concerning rates for 15-24-olds, men (particularly older men), indigenous Australians and LGBTIQ+ communities.
Significant to her conversations, people living in rural and regional communities are more likely to die by suicide than those living in major cities.
Ms Knapp said Boyup Brook faced the common regional challenges of limited employment opportunities and housing.
Additionally, there was limited access to mental health support services, which meant residents had to travel considerable distances to access face-to-face support, and huge waiting times for appointments.
"There are limited activities for our youth to engage in - CoMHAT has been working on this,'' she said.
Plus there's been the financial impact of COVID-19, the potential loss of live exports, and other outside factors on farming; the burdens of fly-in,fly-out lifestyles for many families; and lost social connections because of faster and more stressful lifestyles.
Education in Boyup Brook is only available up to year 10 and many students leave earlier than this due to the pull from larger schools.
"The lack of support services is a big issue for Boyup Brook and access in general, given the geographical position of our town, has been a challenge, as we seem just out of reach for everything,'' Ms Knapp said.
"There is a common expectation that people will and can travel to other destinations, but it is often impractical and not manageable.
"Difficulty with the internet for many also presents issues in accessing other services too, although this is slowly improving."
With this all in mind, Ms Knapp said the community wanted to take a framework-based approach that offered localised, common-sense solutions to its problems.
"And this is an incredible approach to bring together the strengths that already exist in rural communities and to build and develop them," she said.
CoMHAT Boyup Brook has been so successful it has already garnered about $750,000 in grant funding to kick-start projects in the town.
It was also selected as a finalist in the WA Mental Health Awards for 2023, in the Prevention or Promotion category, with the winners announced at a gala dinner in Perth on November 23.
Ms Knapp has been nominated for several individual awards - including winning a WA Local Legend Community Achievement Award in 2022.
She said the CoMHAT approach has four steps: building foundations, taking initial steps, action planning and gathering momentum - and each of these can be broken down into a checklist.
Foundation steps include creating an action team, writing a purpose statement, collecting and analysing local health data and identifying initial goals and targets.
The initial steps phase puts ideas onto the foundations - looking at ways to start creating a sense of connection and belonging, initial mental health messaging, community events, activities and fundraising.
The process ends with a well-being plan and an action team committee to implement it - made up of education, health, police, sporting and community group representatives and local businesses - plus hiring a dedicated grants application writer and committing to a community plan update every three to five years.
"It's all about empowering passionate people,'' Ms Knapp said.
"Great power lies in passionate people who are driven to find a solution.''
Boyup Brook's CoMHAT began with a working party of four liked-minded, passionate community members - Ms Knapp as chairwoman, plus local doctor Michael Mel, Community Resource Centre manager Jodi Nield and accountant Mary-Anne Inglis.
The action team built the foundations - from gathering community mental health statistics to building up local interest, support and buy-in for an action plan.
The working group's initial priorities were to improve the community outreach services for local youth, tackle alcohol and drug use and find ways to bring community members together to create a sense of unity, connection and shared purpose.
These were backed by a community survey, which established 14 goals and targets - including increasing bullying awareness and resilience, providing a contact list of help numbers and bringing seniors back into the community with a purpose.
Seed money came quickly - with individuals and local businesses kicking into a $25,000 community fund, including the Boyup Brook Co-operative, DFD Rhodes, Rylington Park, the local pharmacy and small donations.
"Supporters came on board because this groundwork was happening,'' Ms Knapp said.
"We knew we wanted improved community outreach services for our youth, but we also wanted to bring back that sense of a community working together, whether it was through the school, or churches or sporting clubs.''
Ms Knapp said the Boyup Brook CoMHAT had quickly gone from a small group of passionate people to a thriving community business driving significant change in the community.
It now has a board of four volunteers, four paid employees - a youth zone co-ordinator, event co-ordinator, project officer and dedicated grants writer - and a decision-making group.
An action team unites organisations across the local area and the South West, meeting regularly to help take the lead and deliver the community well-being action plan and set priorities for new plans.
It has already set up a regular youth zone in town, including the purchase and opening of a building, with twice weekly sessions run by its co-ordinator, bought 20 mountain bikes and a trailer for the youth zone and community use, and run regular mental health events and workshops - including for Mental Health Week, youth mental health first aid, conversations about suicide, an upskilling workshop and mountain bike lessons.
Other initiatives include 'Women Who Run the World' boxing sessions, 'A Night with the Blokes of Boyup Brook' woolshed events and half-priced driving lessons for 16 to 25-year-olds.
It works with outside organisations, bringing in workshops and presentations by groups such as Man Up, Tomorrow Man and the Regional Men's Health Group.
Documenting the long process Boyup Brook's community went through to create its CoMHAT has formed the framework for Ms Knapp's business.
Being something that could be successfully reproduced by other towns and shires, the framework gave her a viable business model on which to build.
It was also flexible and responsive to local community needs, which meant her not having to re-invent the wheel for each new location.
The process can be endlessly repeated as community needs and services change and grow over the years.
"I just think there is a great amount of power in this and I've tried to make the process easy for others to follow and adapt,'' Ms Knapp said.
"And I can be the person who comes in to inspire them and support them through every stage.''