Fund amount:
$120,000 over three years

Program area:
Vulnerable Victorians

Barwon South West



Improving mental health support in rural Victoria

17 Nov 2019

Young people living outside of cities in Australia have less access to specialised mental health services potentially resulting in poorer outcomes. 

A three-year grant from the Ross Trust has provided a funding boost to a rural leadership program that focuses on developing leadership skills and knowledge about wellbeing, community and the environment. 

The Youthrive Victoria Young Rural Leaders program is about to enhance its wellbeing component to create a specific focus on the issue of mental health, helping young people to better understand and manage their own mental health and that of their close networks. 

The Ross Trust grant will allow Youthrive Victoria (formerly the Macpherson Smith Rural Foundation), to train up to 90 young leaders and facilitators  in Youth Mental Health First Aid over three years, with a larger group – up to 160 young rural people – learning about mental health and becoming better equipped to care for their own wellbeing and support others. 

CEO of Youthrive Victoria, Dr Maryann Brown, said “We know mental health issues are a major concern for young rural people and we are delighted that this grant provides the opportunity to train our coaches and facilitators in Youth Mental Health First Aid and incorporate key elements in the wellbeing component of our Young Rural Leaders program.” 

Maryann had experienced the benefit of the training firsthand having completed the training a few years ago when working in TAFE.

Youth mental health first aid training is a proven means for communities to strengthen their own capacity to identify and respond to youth mental health issues, which continue to be identified by young people as one of their top concerns. 

“This training literally is like a first aid course, with a very practical way of building skills and sending people back into their community with extra confidence to manage their own mental health better and help others dealing with mental health challenges.

“Our goal is to have more young rural people supported and informed about Youth Mental Health First Aid and they in turn will share knowledge within their communities. It might be a small thing, but it has a ripple effect. I love that we are continuing to enhance the wellbeing part of our leadership program and that we are building the skills base of rural communities. We are confident that the training this grant provides will be a game changer for many young rural people.”

After the first course was rolled out to the Young Rural Leaders program coaches, Maryann could already see small differences. 

“Our focus is ‘for young rural people by young rural people’. The coaches have all come from rural backgrounds and are familiar with many of the issues and challenges – distance to study and train, lack of job opportunities, reduced medical and mental health support etc. They also share the joys of rural life – the beauty of open spaces and pride in their towns.

“Some of our program participants have family members with severe mental illness, and to be able to talk about their experiences can be important. Part of our Young Rural Leaders Program involves the alumni discussing their purpose and their goals and part of that can be confronting fears. Sometimes there are disclosures of tough issues. I can see now that our coaches are using these new Youth Mental Health First Aid skills and know how to have better conversations.”

This grant and the training add an important new piece to the mosaic of solutions needed to support rural people experiencing mental health challenges.

“We are working with young people at a critical point in their lives – they come from all over the state with a variety of backgrounds and experiences and they’re aged 18-22. I want our alumni to be as resilient as possible and to build their support networks. Our message is, ‘wherever you are, look after yourself and the people around you,” Maryann said.

Ultimately, Victoria’s rural communities will benefit from having more young people with an understanding of mental health issues and those with the Youth Mental Health First Aid qualifications will have the capacity to provide support and/or address critical incidents that may occur in their community.

As part of Youthrive Victoria’s commitment to youth leadership, they will also create a new position of leadership program intern, who will work with the CEO to research, develop, coordinate and evaluate the leadership program and to introduce the Youth Mental Health First Aid program. 

The internship will run for 48 weeks, with a new intern each year for the life of this grant. The intern will be selected from the previous Young Rural Leaders Program alumni by expression of interest.  

“I’m really thrilled that we are enhancing our leadership program in a very powerful way and helping rural communities by empowering rural young people through Youth Mental Health First Aid training.”