Last week a father shot dead his wife and three young children. This is shocking enough for anyone to handle but in rural Australia where everyone knows everyone and there is a sense of community, this is even more shocking.
I grew up in a small town about an hour from Lockhart in NSW’s Riverina and I know like every other little town in this area, everyone knows everyone. Small town gossip is rife and these towns pride themselves on creating a sense of community. There is a pub where people can meet, a café, a post office and generally a small supermarket for the essentials. There is always a community hall that is for Christmas parties or to be used as a wedding venue for the locals. It is where people can come together and be part of a town.
But even out here, in the sticks – far removed from an unfriendly city where you can get lost, we have missed the fundamental point of a community. Who knows what went through the head of the Dad when he decided to kill his wife and kids – in what order and for what reason but there was obviously no one there for him to talk to.
Men are proud in these towns. They do their best for their families, they are traditionally heroic and if it is anything like the family I grew up in, men are men. They are tough, robust and salt of the earth farmers. Real men don’t cry and they certainly don’t talk about their problems. They are private. They are the cornerstone of their family. My brothers are two of these men.
And because of the stigma attached to a mental illness of being a failure, being a coward, not being the tough person that men are suppose to be; a family is dead.
Now is the time for us all to reflect on what a mental illness is and how it is affecting your friends, neighbours and even family members. It is time to have that conversation with a friend you haven’t had about their everyday, because you are too busy. It is time we stopped judging people for what we see but for who they really are.
It is evident in all corners of the Western world that people are retreating into their own worlds. Where has the sense of community gone and the intense need of humans to be with others. We are hard wired as social beings and yet in the Western culture, it has become all about ‘me’. I am competing with my friends, colleagues, other mums to be the best I can be rather than working with people to be the best we can be. Go to India or Africa or most developing countries and families live together. There are people at every turn to ‘be’ with and talk to. There are celebrations, love and communal meals. People share their everyday and are nurtured. We have a lot to learn from many indigenous cultures and until we learn that the true sense of healing from a mental illness is community, it will continue to be a lonely world to live in.
Over the past few weeks, a friend I went to Uni with and General Manager at R U OK?, Brendan Marr has been on a big yellow bus traipsing all across Australia to promote R U OK Day? It is all about getting people to talk. Mates to start a conversation and say ‘are you OK?’. It is about really ‘meeting’ a person. It is not about having a deep and meaningful conversation with everyone you meet, but it is about creating an opportunity to ‘be’ with people.
The stigma associated with mental illness makes it even more lonely and a struggle to get through the every day. If this same person had cancer, they are showered with hospital visits, cards and flowers. Yet, when you have anxiety and depression, you are shunned from the world and can’t reach out to the people you need most because it is taboo. Your week becomes about the visits to a psychologist – and there you go, we are reaching out to a person to help us. If we were surrounded in our circle of love with lots of people to share our lives and help us, would there be one in five people currently living with a mental illness. Or more worryingly, now one in five children living with a mental illness.
Choose just one person you have been meaning to ring or have a coffee with and do it. Pick up the phone or text that person now and invite them for a conversation.
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About Anna Partridge
Anna Partridge is a passionate educator, mother of three young children and founder of parenting and education blog, BombardedMum. She also runs parenting workshops about ‘Raising Confident and Resilient Kids’ and works with mums to find their ‘big picture’ of parenting and fall in love with being a mum again. Through her work, she is building a community of like-minded mothers who share the inspiration and challenges of raising the next generation. To work with Anna, find here here.