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Managing Isolation and Mental Health in the Outback

by | Thu, Jun 16 2022

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It is believed that there is just one person per 130 square kilometres in some of the most distant corners of our country. Can you imagine that? For people living in these remote regions, there is also a greater risk of suffering from mental and emotional health issues.

Longreach Baptist Church has been collaborating with other Queensland Baptist churches to create the ‘Outback Connect’ initiative. Longreach Baptist’s Pastor, Steve Ballin, is committed to helping make these much-needed resources accessible in remote areas.

Steve says that mental health is a huge issue for those who are in isolated communities and living on the land. The suicide rates are nearly two times higher than in the more populated areas of the country. There are minimal opportunities for connection, and people don’t have access to physical communities.

“It’s a significant need,” Steve says. “A number of people in our church travel more than 50 kilometres just to come in to be part of a service each week. There’s a lot of area and not many people in between. It’s a combination of isolation and the breakdown of the local community with new technology.”

Technology does have the capability to support relational connection, but it can also be something of a distraction. People are busy, and that can detract from their mental health. But Steve believes one of the most significant risk factors for isolation is the intimate relationship that farmers have with the land.

“Whatever happens to the land happens to them,” says Steve. “It’s what they see every day. When the land is in drought, when things are dying, when it’s barren, that’s actually their experience. That’s how they feel. A farmer’s mental and emotional state often follows what happens with the land. “

For many farmers, knowing how to get help is a significant barrier since they are used to being self-sufficient. They are at a loss on what to do. That’s where ‘Outback Connect’ can help by stepping in to assist them in the search for assistance and support.

“We’ve built a team of everyday people,” Steve explains. “The goal is to provide connection and support. They don’t go out to provide solutions or give funds. The key objective is to build trust with these people on the land and enable them to speak freely. We want to help them reflect on what’s going on in their lives.”

Steve says that philosophy is something that flows straight from the Bible. One of the first questions God asked Adam was, where are you? God didn’t ask that question for His own sake. He asked that for Adam’s sake, because He knew that Adam needed to reflect on what had just happened.

“God asks people questions to help them reflect,” says Steve. “He asked Elijah the same question more than once in the cave. We also see Jesus going to where people are loving and serving, and asking questions that help them understand. These questions help lead people to Christ in relationship.”

Steve says that ‘Outback Connect’ is allowing God to be at work. Their ultimate goal is to partner with Him to build resilient communities. They would love to see the idea of listening and asking good questions catch on, and for farmers to commit to connecting with each other and following the process.

“We’ve got some great consultants that we’re working with,” says Steve. “Specialists that will come out and run workshops around nutrition and agribusiness as well as people from Outback Futures coming to talk about emotional resilience.”

“The thing we’re really passionate about is the relational connections happening between us and the farmers. We’re building trust and helping them to step into this model of community-led care.”