John Harper is a farmer from Stockinbingal (Southern NSW) who, in 2006 began running what came to be known as Mate helping Mate events in his surrounding communities. John recognised that as a consequence of the continuing drought and other factors, many of his neighbours were becoming isolated or socially withdrawn. Having experienced depression, John understood that this isolation and withdrawal placed people at risk of developing a mental illness.
Mate helping Mate is based on social and creative self-help strategies for managing difficult times. John has a unique visual method of presenting his information that appeals to a broad audience and has enabled people to understand the concepts of mental wellbeing John wishes to impart. For example, John uses the visual aid of a slippery dip to emphasise the ‘slide into depression’.
From 2007 and continuing now, John has given a lot of his time to speak at rural mental health, drought and general agribusiness events. Organisations such as WorkCover NSW, Dept of I & I, the YWCA of NSW and Centacare have funded John to speak at events. Mate helping Mate has proved so successful and engaging that John is busily speaking across NSW. This program has been widely promoted and supported by media, resulting in John being a finalist in the NSW Australian of the Year (Local Hero) for 2009. Two Mate helping Mate CDs have been developed which outline the program and concepts of John’s work. The Mate helping Mate concept is used and supported widely by a range of service providers in rural Australia, particularily those dealing with mental health issues.
John talks about his experience of depression, and also, what individuals and communities can do to support each other during difficult times. John explains depression, stress and anxiety very simply and importantly, addresses ‘getting help’ in a practical and easily understood manner. John emphasises the importance of seeking assistance from the range of service providers available in rural areas. These service providers assist by organising events, attending the events and being available to help audience members during, and after, the event.
John is currently working on a new concept, Minute for a Mate, a program which has already gained support from media, and works in encouraging or reminding people to ‘pick up the ‘phone’ and call a mate. It is aimed at being a mechanism for people to support each other, to check on the wellbeing of mates, to reconnect and to seek help early when a problem is first acknowledged. This new program will roll out over the next few months.