John Clark

RAW's John Clark . . . giving back to rural communities.



By Paul O'Rourke

Farmers are helping their own when donated fruit and vegetables find their way into the hands of rural Tasmanians doing it tough.

Loaves and Fishes Tasmania is proud to supply fresh produce and ready-to-eat meals to those living in rural and regional communities through a partnership with Rural Alive & Well (RAW).

RAW is committed to building mentally healthy and resilient rural and remote communities by providing practical and tangible support. RAW has four core programs, working with families, communities, individuals, businesses and peak bodies to change the culture around mental health and reducing the impact of suicide across Tasmania.

RAW’s senior trainer, John Clark, understands the unique challenges of people living in regional and rural centres, having survived a brutal burnout a decade ago that almost took his life.

“I certainly contemplated suicide at my lowest,” he said.

“The difficulty was trying to make it look like an accident to spare my family the guilt of me leaving them.

“I drank too much, rode my bike dangerously, even sat in the cold hoping to get hypothermia.

“I didn’t want to die, I just wanted the pain to stop.”

John said his breakdown took him by surprise. He was married with three vibrant children, hadn’t suffered any trauma or poverty, was well educated and owned his own home.

“I thought anxiety and depression happened to the less fortunate,” he said.

As he began to struggle at work, he worked harder, but there was more to do than could be done, and his poor emotional and people management skills left him drained and increasingly defeated and desperate. Discouragement descended into despair.

'Ticked nine out of 10 boxes for depression'

“I couldn’t sleep, became irritable and angry, became hypervigilant and withdrew.

“I ticked nine out of 10 boxes for depression on the Beyond Blue website.”

The engineer-turned-manager finally swallowed his masculine pride and sought help. It was a long and rocky road back to health.

On the way, he had a stint as a stay-at-home dad, went fruit picking and did fencing before using his experience and passion to help other men through Anglicare, and later RAW.

“Six blokes a day end their life by suicide,” he said.

“It’s the number one cause of death among men under 44.

“Twice the number of Australians die from suicide as car accidents.”

The statistics give new meaning to the term midlife crisis.

“Men in rural communities have higher rates of suicide, and few resources on which to draw. They have less access to health services and have the added burden of the stigma of living in small communities where people gossip,” John said.

'Putting an octopus in a bag'

“These are proud men who have been told to keep their feelings to themselves and suck it up when things don’t go well.

“It’s usually a series of things that cause men to get to the point where they feel overwhelmed and trapped by their circumstances. Financial and relationship issues, trauma, health issues, retrenchment, natural disasters, isolation, lack of coping skills.

“For these men, it’s like trying to put an octopus into a bag.”

John says being able to connect people with services that provide emergency food relief is practical and immediate.

“The meals are perfect for those who can’t or don’t have the means to make their own,” he said.

“Some of the people we see have lost homes or are living on disability pensions or have drug and alcohol issues. They lack cooking facilities or are having to choose between eating and paying the power bill or keeping the car on the road.

"The RAW country team deliver one-one-one support to people across the State, offering practical support to those experiencing situational stressors. They then determine the most effective response and/or service support for those in crisis."

John said RAW team members were partners in recovery, asking questions and helping people determine and choose options to climb out of the black hole.

“Nine out of 10 people give off plenty of signs that they are contemplating suicide,” John said.

“Those most at risk have a time, place and method of how they are going to kill themselves.

“Many of those contemplating suicide will withdraw, lost interest in life, talk about death and dying, stop talking about he future, bury the hatchet where there have been disagreements, have final conversations with friends and family.”

John spends most of his time teaching mental health first aid in variety of heavy industries in regional Tasmania.

RAW is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2006.

For more information, contact RAW at www.rawtas.com.au