by Marguerite Cuddihy
BURLY men in leather jackets rode their loud motorbikes into town this week for a quick pit stop at Roma Saleyards.
You could be forgiven for thinking they were part of an ominous bikie gang, but in fact the all-in-black troupe are Psychs on Bikes. Yes, you read that correctly. Psychs on Bikes are a group of mental health workers who hit the road as part of a motorbike ride aimed at improving awareness about mental health in rural and remote communities.
The group, which comprises of psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses and counsellors, offered free health checks at the Roma Saleyards.
Founder and Sydney psychiatrist Dr Joe Dunn said that while people were normally reluctant to interact with mental health professionals, the group's use of motorbikes served as a talking point that helped to break down barriers.
"We always get a great reception in rural towns.
"People are inherently welcoming, it's a pity we can't stay longer,” he said.
Manager of mental health nursing for western New South Wales Richard Whitton said depression was a prevalent issue in rural communities.
"Graziers spend all their time at work rather than thinking of themselves.
"We've had this terrible drought, now it's flooding in places, but people we speak to seem hopeful for the market,” he said.
Portfolio Chair for Community and Social Services Councillor Janelle Stanford said having a group of health professionals available to provide a free health check at the Saleyards was a really positive initiative.
"This is something that Be Healthy and Safe Maranoa and South West Hospital and Health Service (Mental Health) are going to start up again in the next few weeks, and Psychs on Bikes was a great way to kick-start the initiative.
"It is planned that these health checks will be each Tuesday at 10am at the Saleyards and will have health professionals available to assess all areas of health, and help connect those (many of whom live out of town) with the right services,” Cr Stanford said.
Psychs on Bikes was inspired by a casual ride by Dr Dunn, his son and some colleagues across the Nullarbor Plain in 2011. Since then, there have been six annual rides all over Australia promoting their cause.