WithTheGrain: Talking and personal connection important in tough times

Author: | Date: 03 Oct 2018

Steve Whillas firmly believes face-to-face connections are an important part of maintaining good mental health in tough times.

Whether people are dealing with the effects of a fire, drought or other hardships, he places great value in talking.

This year the grain broker and Eyre Peninsula farmer, who was burnt out in the 2005 Wangary fires, has partnered with Mentally Fit EP (MFEP) to practice what he preaches and talk about his experiences. MFEP aims to empower people to take charge of their lives and to build a mentally fit, connected community through increasing knowledge of support options.

“We’re just trying to get people to communicate and open up,” he says.

“The biggest hurdle I find is that people going through a hard time put up a wall and don’t want to talk, let alone attend community events.

“But I’ve realised communicating is a really key thing to help people heal and partners at home play a key role in encouraging farmers to talk.”

Steve blames the rise of social media and online connectedness for reduced numbers attending community events, local agricultural bureau walks, workshops and other similar gatherings. But it is these events that he wants people to reconnect with to create a community of support.

Eyre Peninsula farmer and grain broker Steve Whillas is using his own experiences after being burnt out in the 2005 Wangary fires to encourage support and relationship-building to maintain good mental health in his community.

“I think we’ve become too connected to social media and internet services and we’re losing the simple art of communication where you just pick up the phone or talk to someone face-to-face.

“Since I’ve been talking about my experiences and bringing speakers in to talk on mental health issues and their own stories, I’ve had half a dozen growers from Eyre Peninsula come up to me and tell me that they’re either on or about to get medication to help their mental health,” he says.

“They feel as though they can share their story with me because I’ve put myself out there as someone who’s willing to talk about men’s mental health.”

Steve says his experience where his family lost much of their infrastructure and assets in the lower Eyre Peninsula fires, which burned around 780 square kilometres of land in 2005, has resulted in 12 years of rebuilding. But he notes this is nothing compared to a friend, whose family lost their lives in the fires.

“My friend has worked hard to get on with his life and come to terms with his losses. He is someone I look up to because of the fact that he lost everything of real value,” he says.

“The material assets can be replaced despite starting at the bottom and working up, but having people who lose their lives, that’s a huge tragedy.

“It was the support of my family, friends and community that allowed me and my family to learn and rebuild and grow from such an event. In particular, the support that found me, rather than that that I went looking for. Once a tragic event occurs, sometimes people feel like it’s better for the grieving process to not bring up the issue. I’ve found that open communication lines and honestly sharing the emotions felt is a key factor in the healing process.”

GRDC Project Code: 180824

More information

Steve Whillas, 0458 852 268, steve@epicbrokers.biz

GRDC Project code: 180824