Greg and Vicki Gardiner with the Get Your HEADRIGHT USB.
Greg and Vicki Gardiner with the Get Your HEADRIGHT USB.

‘Therapy on a USB could save rural brothers and sisters’: Angry Anderson

IT'S A simple enough tool, the humble USB.

For years it has been used to store files, share photographs and for organisations to hand out presentations.

Now, it's being used to save lives.

Although statistics aren't easily acccessible, sparsely populated Greater Western Queensland has a rate of suicide significantly higher than other parts of the state, and the prolonged drought isn't making things any better.

As farmers wait, pray even, for rain to help them begin to rebuild their lives, many are losing hope.

It's why Gold Coast-based psychologist, Greg Gardiner, decided to actually do something when he first learned of the high suicide rates.


"My wife and I have a clinical practice we've been running for 12 years, and eventually I started to notice certain patterns in how to manage and address trauma," Dr Gardiner said.

"As a former engineer, my style of psychology is to find a solution.

"I was at a conference with some people in Toowoomba a few years ago now and each of those six or seven people admitted they knew five or so people who had committed suicide in that year alone.

"I was so alarmed and I started to think of what we could do to help, we had a duty of care."

Originally launching an online program, 18-months-ago Dr Gardiner translated his six-session course onto a USB, labelling it 'Get Your HEADRIGHT'.

According to Dr Gardiner, the program: assesses condition severity both before and after, learn what destroys and builds coping, learn about destructive thoughts and how to address them, learn how to address strong emotion and conflict, learn how to build emotional resilience and prepared to weather tough times, and is a relapse prevention tool.

"A vast number of Australians don't have access to adequate crisis intervention services. And even when crisis services are available many still do not present for help," he said.

"Our research indicates the Get Your HEADRIGHT program offers quick access to mental health solutions, empowering people to take care of themselves or to discreetly offer friends and family crisis care that works."

Putting help where it's needed most

In an effort to get more of the potentially life-saving USBs into the regions that need them most, Gold Coast Rotarian Phil Connelly brought the Gardiners on board for an upcoming luncheon on November 22.

The aim of the lunch is to raise money to buy these USBs for crisis support and mental health services in Roma, Charleville, Goondiwindi, St George, Longreach, and all the towns in between.

"I was the government undertaker in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Cairns and Mackay for over 40 years, and early on I started noticing how many youth suicides we were getting," he said.

"Nobody was keeping statistics, but there's probably been hundreds of locations where I've sat with a family of a suicide victim.

"When we found out about Greg, we thought gee he might be doing something we might be able to help with. I invited him along to speak at Rotary and there's been plenty of support behind him. We think what he's doing is quite a good thing because there aren't any clinics out west."

As far as mental health is concerned, Mr Connolly fears we are moving backwards.

"I think there's a big increase in youth suicide at the moment because they're losing hope. With climate change I think especially they're all a bit in their heads," he said.

"But as far as I'm concerned, I think suicide is the biggest unkindness anybody can do to their families. There's a real risk that someone else close to the person who has taken their live will makes the same decision. But can we actually stop it or slow it down? I don't know, but we have to try."

'They are my brothers and sisters'

Despite coming from a suburban background, Angry Anderson admits he has always had a strong connection to people on the land, and now he's stepping up as guest speaker at next month's event.

"I've always had a great respect and admiration for people on the land, and as I've grown older that has grown," he said.

"I have struggled in my younger days with mental pressure which manifested to depression… I've dealt with depression my whole life, but you have to deal with it. It doesn't matter how much money someone has, you're not immune to unkindness and the unfairness of life.

"Surviving depression… is day by day. You don't ever get rid of it, but you can learn to deal with it and you can."

His attachment to the people of the land has been even more heightened by becoming aware of the problem rural men are facing as the drought rages on, and it's claiming lives.

"There is a perception that a lot of men have been told to be stoic in the face of bad thing, and that's not a bad thing," he said.

"You can't change that by telling them to adopt a new way of thinking, we need to encourage men to be more rounded and tell them there's strength in opening up.

"A strong man is able to acknowledge there are moments in his life where he needs to reac out. To reach out is to reach within."

His message to rural people is simple: "They are my brothers and sisters, they are people I love as family of humanity, I have a great affection for them," he said.

"If they need, I want to be one of those people who steps up and offers a hand."

Nerang Rotary will host their rural luncheon on November 22. Contact Sue Lamb on 0420 311 706 for more information.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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