As a fifth-generation farmer, Rick Hinge knows all too well the hardships of a life on the land.
Rick lives with his wife Lynette in Mundulla, a small town in South Australia. He works in livestock management and for the last few years he has been a wellbeing consultant, checking in on people and offering a sympathetic ear.
“It’s people working in agriculture who often feel the pinch of hard times first. There’s not a lot protecting them if their crops fail, livestock is lost or prices drop. These difficult times can make it hard for people to communicate and put a strain on relationships,” says Rick.
“However, I’ve always been amazed by people’s capacity to pull together as communities and find a way to continue on. You don’t typically see great support until things get difficult, but it’s incredible how a crisis can bring people together and leads communities forward.”
Over the last summer, Rick and Lynette volunteered on Kangaroo Island in the aftermath of the bushfires.
“We helped where we could, rolling up damaged fences and what not, but we were also talking to people and seeing how they were travelling,” he says.
“Many families went through much trauma with the loss of possessions and livestock while also dealing with troubling visual flashbacks. It would have been devastating for those who left their properties only to discover their homes destroyed on their return.”
“It’s often difficult for rural people to have a sit-down conversation about how they’re feeling, but I’ve found that if you chat and listen while working away at something, conversation generally flows more easily.”
Rick believes this method of working and talking has also been helpful for his own mental health.
“I’ve lived with bipolar for the last 39 years and I find that when I’m well I’m 100 per cent and, mostly when unwell, I experience depression and anxiety which can last for six months or so,” he says.
“The last time I was down, I rang one of my farming friends and asked him if it would be okay to come over. We went around tending to his livestock and doing farm things, just spending time with him and hanging about, it was very therapeutic.”
“People in rural communities can easily offer time to each other when things are tough, reach out to someone and ask if they’d like to go for a drive, clean out the troughs or just look at the country.”
Volunteering is another way in which Rick said communities could remain mentally strong through times of fire and drought. He encouraged people to practice being generous.
“The next piece of the puzzle is connectedness through giving,” he says.
“Giving takes you outside of yourself and takes you out of your head for a moment. For me, that’s really important.”
This article was written with the support of our partner Zoetis. The partnership aims to support rural mental health by raising funds and sharing stories of hope, resilience and recovery from people living in rural Australia.
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