The $15 million initiative helping improve regional mental health

A program funded by a private philanthropic organisation is working to reduce the stigma around mental illness in regional South Australia.

Feb 02, 2024, updated Feb 02, 2024
Our Town is working in Cummins to reduce the stigma around mental illness. Photo: Our Town Facebook

Our Town is working in Cummins to reduce the stigma around mental illness. Photo: Our Town Facebook

The initiative, called Our Town, began as a response to findings in the Health Needs and Priorities South Australia Report, commissioned by the Fay Fuller Foundation and released in 2018.

The report found that while mental health was a proportionally greater issue in regional areas, the number of people seeking help was still less than in metropolitan areas.

Our Town Cummins guardian Emma Gale said the initiative was unique as it was community led after they received an initial $45,000 funding from the Fay Fuller Foundation to discover the community’s main concerns.

“Rather than just looking at what we think is happening, we had 12 months to do a really deep dive into our own community,” Gale said.

“In grant funding typically, you have these sort of boxes that you have to check, and you have to try and make your town or group of people fit into that.

“I think there’s a real push for community-driven work because who better understands what’s happening in these regional towns than the people who live there?”

Gale said the main issues in Cummins did not fit in national expectations, meaning a lot of typical grants were not suited for the town.

“It’s typically people in Adelaide making decisions about what they’re seeing, but that’s not always true for every town. When we were doing this our last three suicides were young females, and that is very far from the national statistics.”

Emma Gale, Our Town Cummins guardian, said the initiative was community led. Photo: Our Town Facebook.

Gale said during their research the group found one of the main issues was the attitude toward alcohol.

“We’re quite a boozy culture here, it’s not unusual for lots of drinks at a first birthday. When something’s good we like to celebrate with drinks. When somethings awful we like to commiserate with drinks,” she said.

Our Town helped stock Cummins sporting clubs with zero-alcohol beer and hosted alcohol-free cocktail nights at a local hotel, trying to introduce community discussion around harmful alcohol use.

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“We sort of just try to educate people that there are choices and options out there,” Gale said.

Following the 12-month discovery period, Cummins received funding from the Fay Fuller Foundation to run Our Town for ten years, which Gale said gives them the opportunity for trial and error.

“Because we’ve got ten years, the ideas that aren’t working well we have the opportunity to really go back to the ball again and have another look,” she said.

“How do we develop something that is sustainable in a regional community, to support peoples’ well-being before they get into crisis mode… that’s the stuff we’re really looking at.”

Now in its third year, Our Town in Cummins is trying to create long-lasting community change.

“What we’re hoping to build is a system or structure where there’s a lot more people in Cummins that are educated on just how to listen to someone…just be there and be available for them emotionally,” Gale said.

“If we can do that, it won’t just be us that people will talk to, it’ll be a lot more people in the community.”

The Our Town network comprises six communities: Ceduna/Far West, Cummins, Kangaroo Island, Kimba, Berri and Mid Murray.

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