One thing baffles me in mental health campaigning: I never seem to get what it really is and what I can do about it. The campaign messages seem to be that there is a stigma, we need to talk about it and that it affects one in so many people.
In healing articles, books and documentaries though, there seems to be some common themes that turn up that relate to my own experiences in mental health that make more sense.
The first common theme is being present and mindful. We practice this when we work in the yards or with our animals - we have to be aware of the situations all around us that are happening. As soon as our focus drifts, an animal brings it back, whether the dog starts misbehaving, a beast comes at you or a horse takes a short cut.
Worries or past experiences will attempt to steal us from the present moment; it takes discipline, commitment and action to bring our focus back again. Training animals exercises this muscle and with regular exercise, our present-mindedness becomes easier.
The second theme is being able to express the positive and negative feelings that arise in a safe and respected environment, whether we feel angry, sad, frustrated, belittled, useless or excited, happy, satisfied, peaceful and relaxed. Some of these feelings need to be expressed to overcome their unhealthy effects on us.
In rural situations, being present is sometimes more of a case of survival when you're working with large animals and machinery and something we are probably better at. But do we get too busy to take the time to feel and express our emotions?
Could campaigning for people to express themselves through what works for them be more easily adopted?
Talking can be with another non-judging person, to our four-legged friends or through our faith and prayers. We might feel more comfortable to express these through art, music or writing.
Can we focus on what makes mental health "good", like making the time to do the things we really enjoy and give us fulfilment?
Can we support others better by listening and accepting their stories as they see them, instead of unintentionally blocking them with our opinions, interpretations and advice?
Can we learn from animals how to become better listeners? Maybe the best teachers and therapists already live in our paddocks.
- Sara Westaway, livestock and property marketing