Bringing people together is the first step towards meaningful conversations about mental health – that’s where the local show steps in, says Karl Milde.
According to Beyond Blue, one in eight Australian men will experience depression in their lifetime. One in five will experience anxiety. These rates only increase when you look at men living in the bush.
One man behind these worrying statistics is Karl Milde who, while growing up on a merino sheep and broadacre cropping enterprise just out of the small South Australian town of Eudunda, struggled with bouts of anxiety and depression.
“I guess for a 27-year-old I have faced quite a fair bit of adversity already in my life,” Karl said, “that’s not me having pity on myself, that’s just being realistic.”
“I was fortunate enough to get through those adversities through talking to certain friends.”
It took him a long time to begin to have those conversations, though. That’s why, when Karl saw what the Naked Farmer was doing to encourage an open dialogue around mental health in rural communities.
“The whole point of [the Naked Farmer] is if we can bare ourselves, as in bare our skin, surely we can talk about mental health.”
Karl himself featured on the Naked Farmer Instagram page, nude doing a handstand – of all things – in a canola crop.
But that was his first step towards awareness. In 2019, the president of the Eudunda Show Committee called Karl and asked him if he would like to be the community’s Rural Ambassador for that year.
“I was flattered. I guess the community had seen something in me, they encouraged me and made me feel valued. I want to give that back tenfold.”
During his period as Rural Ambassador, Karl saw the need to get farmers off their isolated, drought-impacted farms and bring them together. The local show was a perfect opportunity for this. He introduced the inaugural Merino Ewe Hogget competition in 2020.
“We [farmers] can get quite stuck in doing just our work and not coming off farm and enjoying time with our family and friends. So I thought this is a great way to showcase our hard work through the sheep,” he said.
“I was overwhelmed with the response. And just to see all the farmers mingling, talking together, especially with the hard times, it meant a lot.”
“Just getting people together. It’s only when you see your mates that you get an inkling – especially when you’ve experienced those feelings [of mental illness] yourself – you’ve got an inkling when you can see somebody else that might be having them.”
“It’s going about it in the right way. Just putting yourself out there, having an open chat to them.”
Looking forward, Karl aims to organise more community events that encourage these conversations.
“I would like to see a local event that is focussed on mental health and mindfulness,” he said, “I’m going to continue to try and work towards doing that.”
“It’s just getting people to think in a different light. I think if we’re all just a little bit more considerate, more thoughtful of others. It goes a long way to make life a lot easier for everybody.”