As told to Sian Gard
Fourth-generation avocado farmer Katrina Myers was pulled from her boarding school classroom at 15 and told her father had died by suicide on the family property. Now, she’s helping boost mental health in rural communities, where male suicide is twice as common. She told her story to ABC’s Sian Gard.
Dad was very much a community man, he had heaps of friends, very charismatic. He was warm and so much fun to hang out with. Every year we used to have this pony club camp and Dad would take us on a massive ride.
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He didn’t have a history of mental health issues, long-term.
I had no idea he was sick at all; I didn’t even know he was depressed.
In one morning, everything changed. Then, it was like living a double life. I’d had this awesome, perfect, normal childhood and then suddenly everything was different.
I went back to boarding school within a week. I carried on as if nothing had happened. But I could feel this stigma.
I didn’t want to tell people it was suicide because I knew they would feel uncomfortable or really sorry for me.
It wasn’t until I got older and had my own children that a lot of stuff started to come up as I got closer to the age that Dad died.
I now have a good understanding of why Dad got to the point where he felt like he needed to take his own life, so I’ve never had any resentment — just sadness and wishing he was still here for my kids. Wishing it could have been different for him.
My mental health went downhill
After my third child Poppy was born I realised my mental health wasn’t too good.
I was feeling very negative about things, worrying too much about small things and feeling down a lot of the time.
I thought, what’s going on here?
I decided to do something about it. I saw a therapist then started investigating what else I could do myself. It took me about 12 months.
There is so much we can do for our own mental health, it’s incredible really.
Looking after our minds is just like looking after our bodies.
I meditate every day and practise gratitude, I have my own blog, keep a journal and exercise as part of my daily routine.
That’s what I advocate for: work out what works for you to make your mind stronger.
Bringing help into the home
I got involved with The Ripple Effect project through the National Centre for Farmer Health.
It’s an interactive approach to engage people who might be feeling isolated using an online platform, that could reduce stigma around suicide in rural areas.
Often, people don’t realise they’ve got a mental health problem and then they don’t know where to start.
I realised that just by sharing my story and what worked for me, I was helping others. People were approaching me and messaging me to say thank you so much for talking about this.
Markets a meeting of minds
We’ve also developed ways to connect our community offline with local farmers’ markets.
As well as promoting this wonderful agricultural area, they’re a really nice way for people and producers to get together to share their ideas and what their struggles might be.
For farmers, it’s important to have face-to-face contact with customers.
The recognition makes you feel good about your produce.
Start with the kids
I’ve also been working with the Barham Primary School to implement the Smiling Mind Program where students and teachers take part in a daily 10-minute meditation session.
I use the Smiling Mind app with my own kids. It’s fun and they are right into it now.
We need to teach children from the get-go that looking after your mental health and wellbeing is just part of life.
I’d love to see it become a whole community approach where everybody knows they can do something about their mental health … starting with the kids, by giving them these tools for the future.
Life’s not about what happens to you, it’s how you respond to it. Meditation is a big part of being able to train your mind to see the world like that.
Another project I’m working on with friends is a podcast called Spreading The Good Stuff. It’s about what you can do daily to change the negative way you might see the world. We’re sharing positive stories from awesome regional women.
Katrina has 4 children and runs her avocado farm while volunteering her time to promote better mental health. (Supplied: Katrina Myers)
Learn how to help yourself
Mental health has had a huge impact on my whole life because of what happened with Dad. Then my sister suffered from depression and then I had my own battle.
There are so many times now I genuinely feel happy and love my life. I never used to have that feeling and I’ve realised it’s because I’ve done all this work.
If you are not flourishing, if you’re just hanging in there, say, “righto I have the ability to change that.”
Do some research and try some things because there is no one size fits all approach.
There are lots of people advocating for better rural mental health services which is super important, but at the same time there is much that each of us can do as individuals at home.
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