You’ve probably heard of ‘Psychs on Bikes’ before, but did you know it was started entirely by accident? In 2011, Dr Joseph Dunn, a psychiatrist from Sydney, just wanted to ride a motorbike across the Nullarbor Plain but ended up starting a national mental health charity!
Now 6 years down the track over 200 mental health professionals are tearing up the road across the country. Their goal? Raising awareness about mental health and sharing their knowledge to help rural and regional towns. Dr Dunn details the journey:
I didn’t intend to start an organisation dedicated to reducing the burden of mental illness in the bush. I just wanted to ride a motorbike across the Nullarbor.
But who’d want to have such an adventure alone? One of my sons (we have a squillion kids) joined me then a couple of colleagues, a psychiatrist and a psychologist, dropped in at the last minute.
Somewhat to our surprise, we ate up those kilometres and reached Kalgoorlie enthused, windblown and smelling like the inside of a crash helmet. And in a pub that night we dreamed up the idea of a charitable organisation of mental health professionals riding motorbikes to rural areas with the hope of raising awareness about mental health, talking to professional colleagues in the bush and getting blokes to talk about their distress. That was in 2011. Psychs on Bikes was born.
These days it’s rare to find a mental health professional in Australia who’s never heard of Psychs on Bikes. There are over 200 psychologists, mental health nurses and psychiatrists on our mailing list and most of our annual ‘Big Rides’ attract more than 20 riders.
We conduct free men’s health checks (actually a ploy to get them talking about themselves), speak to local media and engage in meetings and education sessions with colleagues, Rotary, Men’s Sheds, schools, community mental health centres and anyone who can be bothered to listen.
Why focus on mental health in the Bush? Because the suicide rate is nearly twice what it is in the city. Because in wealthy downtown suburbs there’s a private psychiatrist on every corner but in the Bush people struggle to access services. And because the slow destigmatisation of mental illness is moving in regional Australia a little too slowly, even if attitudes are changing for the better. Living in smalltown Australia can be a challenge. A lack of privacy in a small community. Stretched healthcare services. Local economies that run boom-or-bust according to the weather and commodity markets. Life in the bush can be peaceful, unpretentious and communal but it can be really tough too.
Over the years the psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health nurses riding with PoB have raised awareness, interacted with local health professionals and conducted hundreds of free men’s health checks in which we try to engage blokes in talking about not only their physical but their emotional wellbeing.
Later in 2018 hopefully we’ll have another go at the Big One – Perth to Sydney in nine days – which we’ve already done twice but keep coming back to because it’s such a great personal challenge with such bragging rights!
If you work in mental health or, for that matter, in any area of healthcare and would like to join us for any of those rides please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Joseph Dunn
An incredible journey that continues to do incredible things with no plans of slowing down. For more information and if you’d like to donate, check out the website: www.psychsonbikes.com.au