I'd never heard of Warren.
City slicker over here had to look it up on a map to see some point of reference (yep. It's a place)
I was booked to do a mental health talk to the community of Warren in rural NSW. I've never spent much time in the country and I accidentally wore my velvet pants and faux fur shoes to prove it.
A local family, the Austins, had lost their son Malcolm to suicide just over a decade ago. Husband and wife, Sid and Pook, had organised a mental health forum for the whole community just a few years afterwards in honour of their son and in an effort to encourage people to talk about depression and seek help.
The hard-working farming lifestyle of Warren was stuck with the legacy of the Aussie "she'll be right" mentality which seemed to be a barrier for seeking help, particularly for young men, coupled with a lack of available services.
This initial forum 8 years ago was shockingly successful. Organisers hoped to maybe pull in 100 or so people if they were lucky. On the day they were bombarded with over 500 people attending from up to 400 Kms away.
This year Pook decided it was about time the communities got together once again in Warren to have honest conversations about depression and suicide. The demand was there. Many just needed the excuse to talk.
I was asked to come speak along with Malcolm's high school friend / former Wallaby Julian Huxley, psychiatrist Prof Chris Tennant, and researcher Dr Tonelle Handley.
What struck me most about the people I met in Warren was their incredible desire to make a positive difference for the people around them despite being faced with very few mental health services. I've always heard that stated as a fact - things are harder out there in part because there aren't many doctors. But I didn't really think what that meant until I saw it.
People often only have one choice of doctor. It takes weeks to see a GP. Flying Doctors bring a psychiatrist in once every few weeks. Many people will drive 6 hours to get to Sydney for an appointment.
We spoke about some really difficult topics that day. I once again broke down in tears on stage for the 4th time in a row. New record! Despite the heaviness of what was being discussed I think the attendees went home with a feeling of hope that things can and do get a lot better for people who are suffering with mental illness.
Although we're fortunate to have abundant medical services in the city we miss out on the type of community support that Warren has. They look out for each other there while we relatively treat everyone as a stranger. It's a shame we can't swap for a day.
I'd love to go back again next time.
Well done, Warren.