A group of ten Riverland locals are getting loud on mental health, taking part in a wellbeing movement that’s having a significant impact on the community. The Vocal Locals are all prominent Loxton community members, either farmers or with agricultural connections, who have been working with wellbeing group ifarmwell to share their own mental health journeys via social media. Each Vocal Local has undertaken mental health workshops and an individual coaching program, as well as learning strategies through ifarmwell online modules and discovering resources that they’ve been able to pass on via their networks to help others who may be facing similar challenges. The program aims to normalize conversations around mental health, strengthen wellbeing and build drought resilience, helping people to realise they’re not alone and to provide support and positivity.
The backstory to Vocal Locals began when the Little Town Productions theatre show Kick of ya Boots premiered in October last year. The production told the story of a typical Australian farming family, the Conners, and revealed the hidden and often unspoken side of life in a rural community. One of the main goals of the production was to open up the mental health conversation, after the show’s creators recognised the community need for practical, targeted support in this area.
“When we first developed Kick off ya Boots we were very conscious of not having people attend the show, having a great night of fun and laughter, but then promptly forgetting about it two months later,” says John Gladigau, Kick off ya Boots producer/playwright and Vocal Locals project coordinator.
To ensure the show stood up to this vision, Little Town Productions worked with UniSA’s Dr Kate Gunn, ifarmwell’s founder, to create a production that went far beyond merely entertaining its audience. Galvanized by the overwhelming response, and with funding from the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR), the Vocal Locals initiative was subsequently conceived. Little Town Productions remains a supporting partner of the project, as does St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Loxton, which has opened up its offices for wellbeing coaching sessions.
Vocal Local Leanne Kaesler was the coordinator of Kick off ya Boots and is part of a farming family. She knows firsthand the struggles that many farmers face – often in silence.
“I myself have struggled with anxiety and depression issues, and suffered burn-out quite a few times,” says Leanne. “It really excited me to be invited to become a Vocal Local and to be given the opportunity to focus on learning new skills and tools to manage my own wellbeing, and to also be able to share my journey to help others.”
John Gladigau says the community response so far has been exceptional.
“Mental health and wellbeing is something we all seem to agree should be part of our normal conversations, we all talk about how we should be open about it, but we rarely do it. We’ve seen through the Vocal Locals posts how much people appreciate the engagement and open conversations, and the community has been very engaging, supportive and encouraging not only of the Vocal Locals but also of each other.”