Mental health and well-being remain ever-present issues in Australian country communities in the grips of drought.
As she studies to chase dreams of a better tomorrow, Country Education Foundation (CEF)-supported psychology student Olivia Mack experiences the impact of this ‘climate emergency’ in the north west NSW shire of Gwydir daily.
Olivia is studying in pursuit of becoming a school counsellor and received support from the Gwydir Learning Region Country Education Fund to assist with her Bachelor of Psychology studies via Charles Sturt University’s Port Macquarie campus.
She switched to part time distance study and has moved home in the last year in order to help her family in a time when only 50ml of rain has fallen on the dirt at her family’s property near Bingara.
She said living on campus certainly allowed her to immerse herself in study. However, the reality of the costs of living on campus or in a share house wasn’t something her family could afford moving forward.
“Studying distance is such a different experience to studying on campus. I have found external study requires a lot more focus and time management in comparison to internal study. I am enjoying having my own freedom to study or work though. The independence of the mode can definitely be rewarding,” Olivia said.
Part-time study has also allowed her to work at a local cafe in order to contribute rent to her family, as they are selling off cattle and hand feeding due to severe drought conditions.
“I scaled back to help out on the farm,” she said.
“Dad’s really pushing to let go of a lot of cattle. Mum has taken time off work and my partner comes from Tamworth to help out.”
Olivia’s story is one of many, witnessed by Country Education Foundation of Australia CEO Wendy Cohen, last week during her trip to the region which included a public meeting for the Gwydir Learning Region Country Education Fund and the CEF Namoi committee.
Her first-hand experience of seeing the impact of drought on mental health and well-being inspires Olivia to call for more support for Australian communities like hers.
“I find no one actually talks about the drought in town despite what they’re facing,” she said.
“There isn’t enough awareness of the larger impacts of mental health.”
“In the future I would definitely like to work and live rurally. There is quite a demand for psychology professions in rural towns which has definitely encouraged my choice to return home and one day possibly work around the area,” she said.
Lifeline services are available for anyone for in a crisis, with confidential help available by calling 13 11 14.