WHEN a close friend pleaded with John Ward (pictured) to “for God’s sake, do something”, the local farmer launched his own personal crusade against mental illness in rural areas.
This week, a sign on the side of the road at Coleambally will be officially unveiled to support Mr Ward’s campaign and to stop the high rate of suicide among farmers.
He hopes the joint initiative between the NSW Farmers Federation and R U OK Foundation will get people talking.
Situated on the Kidman Way and bearing the message “Coleambally 8 R U OKs, Jerilderie 76 R U OKs”, Mr Ward said the sign will be aimed at raising awareness of an issue that has claimed too many lives across the region.
“I realised I had the ability to come in and say ‘g’day, how are you going?’ to people and they’d feel comfortable with me,” Mr Ward said.
“I wanted to use that talent to make something happen, to be useful to the community.”
Mr Ward has since joined the R U OK? Foundation and become an ambassador to spread the message across the region and rural Australia.
“We want to tell people where to go and how to get help if they need it,” he said.
“I’ve tried to turn mental illness into something palatable that people can talk about.”
The sign was inspired by a roadside placard Mr Ward saw in Tasmania which read “We fight suicide in Tasmania” – a sign the farmer said “hit me like a tonne of bricks”.
In future, Mr Ward hopes to organise a fundraising dinner for the foundation.
He also wants to establish a “farm camp” which would provide a supervised rural environment where those who need help could escape the pressure, sit around a campfire and talk in a way they felt comfortable.
“This is about making people talk about it and feel OK about it,” Mr Ward said.
“If you can get people to talk about it, it breaks down the polarisation and stigmatism.”
The R U OK? Foundation encourages people to ask others the question in the hope that meaningful conversations could help any person experiencing a problem to feel better supported and less vulnerable to a crisis or suicide death.
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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.