Psychs on Bikes riding for mental health

QBE Banner_Horizontal

A LITTLE  earlier in this century Dr Joe  Dunn, esteemed psychiatrist of Sydney, was in the midst of yet another mid-life crisis, and enjoying it immensely.

He had convinced his wife that a motorcycle would be cheaper and safer than a mistress. He describes, in an awkwardly affectionate kind of way, his wife as “a wonderful, wonderful woman, but perhaps a little gullible?”

By 2011, Joe was on his motorcycle and was well out of Perth, at Kalgoorlie, headed east and across the Nullarbor Plain. He was not alone, as the Dunn family includes several squillion kids, and Joe was able to press gang one of his sons to join him. A couple of colleagues, a psychiatrist and a psychologist, also joined. The adventure of the Great Australian Vastness and long days on the road was a temptation, but nothing could be more curious for a psychiatrist or a psychologist than the prospect of deep analysis of Joe’s sustained mid-life crisis. This, for a mental health professional, is the stuff PhDs are made of!

A PhD, however, was not quite what was delivered. You spend a little time in the bush, and it’s wonderful, especially if you are touring on a motorbike. Dorothea McKellar’s words from “My Country” of a sunburnt country, and of droughts and flooding rains, recur keenly, sensationally, to you as you ride through the smells and the warmth and the shape and colours of the earth and the vastness before you. Rural Australia is a beautiful, inspiring, occasionally forbidding, risky place and the pioneering has never gone from it, and never will.

Dorothea McKellar’s words from “My Country” of a sunburnt country, and of droughts and flooding rains, recur keenly, sensationally, to you as you ride through the smells and the warmth and the shape and colours of the earth and the vastness before you.

As Joe’s little group was holed up in a Kalgoorlie pub, slaking their thirst, the discussion turned slightly professional, and to the demands of healthcare and its delivery in the bush. There are grim statistics; The incidence of suicide is about twice as high as high in rural areas. The impact on supporting families and on the community is devastating - not just as a result of suicide but of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and the range of maladies including, of course, the stigma that can go with mental illness.

Those droughts, flooding rains, fluctuating market prices, debt and the vagaries of doing business in the bush undoubtedly contribute to higher rates of suicide. So too, obviously, does isolation and the available means: guns, poisons, ropes, shed beams. A sad fact is that the problem in the bush is overwhelmingly male. It doesn’t mean that women don’t have problems but over 80 percent of successful suicides in the bush are blokes. The discussion for Joe’s little group inevitably turned to “well, what can we do about it?”

An answer to the question in the Kalgoorlie pub wasn’t left just blowin’ in the wind. Psychs on Bikes was born. Joe established the association of mental health professionals and, with a bit of help from his friends, sorted the way through the bureaucracy and became a fully registered and compliant charity with DGR (deductible gift recipient) status. From there, it just took off!

The concept was to break down stigma around mental health in rural communities, to provide support to existing health support services and to engage communities on general health outcomes. Physical and mental health issues are often closely related.

Psychs on Bikes do an annual “Big Ride” – so far Perth to Sydney (twice), Melbourne to Darwin via Western NSW and Mt Isa, the long way up to Maryborough, Qld (including a visit to the Ulysses AGM in 2012), working with Rural Alive and Well (RAW), a slow lap around Tasmania and, in 2016, Melbourne to Sydney via every known bend and village and town. Psychs on Bikes teams also undertake local community visits whenever the opportunity offers.

Welcome visitors: The Psychs and their bikes are always a hit with the locals.

The concept was to break down stigma around mental health in rural communities, to provide support to existing health support services and to engage communities on general health outcomes. Physical and mental health issues are often closely related.

These days, it’s rare to find a mental health professional who hasn’t heard of Psychs on Bikes. There are over 200 psychologists, mental health nurses, social workers and psychiatrists on the mailing list, many of whom provide active support, and most of the Big Rides attract 20 or more riders from across Australia.  These mental health professionals give up a big slice of their annual holidays or spare time to support rural mental health.

Typically, on arrival in a town the psychiatrists will visit the local support services, including GPs (often the front line in the battle), to talk about resources, cases, and recent issues in mental health. Psychs on Bikes also conducts free men’s (women welcome) health checks, where both physical and mental health issues are addressed. They make as much fuss as they can, and engage local media, politicians, community leaders and associations such as Men’s Sheds, Rotary, schools and community health centres. Meetings are often run in pubs, and members will hang around to talk to the locals. The more families and communities understand the issues, the more stigma is broken down, the more sufferers understand there is help, then the more there is progress in reducing the burden of mental ill health.

Our motorcycles are an important part of the arsenal. They attract attention when Psychs on Bikes ride into town. They are often a talking point, especially for men, and this helps break down barriers. What better way to explore the countryside and build camaraderie and teamwork?

By itself, Psychs on Bikes will not resolve rural and regional Australia’s mental health problems, but over time, along with many other community organisations, it believes it is part of making a difference. The Psychs are not simply a bunch of blokes. As you might expect from this area of health services there is a good representation of female riders from a wide variety of disciplines.

Psychs on Bikes count themselves lucky to have Ramsay Healthcare as a generous sponsor, and this financial independence has enabled riders to go into towns to give rather than compete for the local charity dollar (notwithstanding contributions are gratefully acknowledged AND tax deductible).

Have a look at Psychs on Bikes website www.psychsonbikes.com.au and see the eight minute Youtube documentary about one of their rides. If Psychs on Bikes  come to your town, then come along and say G’day. If you’d like a visit to your town because there is work for us to do, then by all means let us know – shoot an email to psychsonbikes@gmail.com.

Lastly, but not at all least, Ulyssians or their friends that work as professionals in the area of mental health are welcome to join. Consider this an invite, just drop us an email.

Stephen Davies #4771 (and secretary of Psychs on Bikes Inc).

V-Sport

Have something to share?

Are you a Ulysses Club Member and have a story, letter, review, news or idea to share?
Submit here

Join the community

We have a thriving Facebook Page.
Like us and join the conversation.

QBE Banner_Horizontal

Leave a Comment





20 − three =