Dalby mental health advocate nominated for top honour
WHEN the tragic suicide of two men sent a shockwave of grief through Mary O'Brien's community, she penned a heartfelt plea to rural men to seek help which unknowingly began an Australia-wide movement that's now being recognised at a national level.
Are you bogged mate? founder, Ms O'Brien has been nominated for Queensland's 2021 Local Hero Award in the Australia of the Year awards, among four other community leaders across the state.
The proud Dalby resident made headlines internationally with a story she published for the Australian Cotton Grower magazine more than three years ago about mental health awareness.
Before these endeavours, Ms O'Brien worked all over Australia talking about best practice in pest management, speaking to farmers and graziers on a daily basis.
Then out of the blue, her hometown was hit with the deaths of two men to suicide, which sent ripples of trauma and confusion through the community.
"I knew the men who passed away, and I was quite close to those who knew them very well, and it was hard to watch those blokes who they left behind try to cope with such a loss," she said.
"We all eventually started to talk about it, and they would call me, and at first I was concerned about my lack of skills and knowledge to help with this."
After conducting some research, she found articles from experts which stated men living in rural areas "had to be changed", suggesting there was something wrong with them.
This didn't sit well with Ms O'Brien at all.
"There's nothing wrong with these men, they were just misunderstood, and I needed a way to express my frustration at a system that refused to talk to them," she said.
"I wanted to let those rural men in Australia that I understood them, and had their backs."
During her work in the farming industry, Ms O'Brien would be a regular contributor to the Australian Cotton Growers Magazine, and she was able to publish her article entitled 'Are you bogged mate?'
She then posted her article as a tweet asking for pictures of bogged machines, and through this her story was viewed more than 18,000 page views within two weeks.
Her page views grew and grew, with the message resonating with readers from more than 80 countries.
The article was such a massive success she created her own website, and even translated the article into German for European farmers.
Since then she has been travelling across Australia chatting to farmers and graziers about their life on the land, and promoting awareness around rural men's depression and suicide.
Her notoriety soared to astronomical heights this year thanks to an in depth episode on ABC Landline, which has led to her being inundated with emails.
"The response from Landline took up so much time, I received just thousands of emails in a short amount of time asking where I would be next, and when my next event was," Ms O'Brien said.
"I eventually got around to fixing my website, and I've been busy ever since."
Ms O'Brien will attend the awards event in Brisbane on Tuesday November 10, before heading to South Australia for a slew of events.
Even though this ranks high in her achievements, she said she's just glad her message about rural men's mental health is getting the screen time it deserves.
"It's such an honour to even be nominated, let alone be a finalist in such an amazing group of Queenslanders," Ms O'Brien said.
"However my primary goal is to promote what these men are going through each day, and to talk in a practical way about mental health.
"I just want to be able to connect and support them out there, as this movement will always be about saving lives of men in the bush."