It is such an honour to have been invited by Nicole to contribute to her blog series on inspirational rural women. I sit here writing this post in an atmosphere where Australia’s first female Prime Minister was not long ago unceremoniously deposed, surrounded by a dark cloud of sexism, and talented sportswoman, Marion Bartoli, has been accused of not being “pretty enough” to win Wimbledon. As a woman, these issues ignite a fire in my belly for advocacy of women’s rights.

Rural women are not a stereotypical or homogenous group – we come in all different shapes and sizes and from many different backgrounds and occupations, but we have one thing in common: our desire for healthy, thriving rural communities throughout Australia – for men, women and children alike.

RIRDC Award FairleyI was born and bred on a cattle property in SE Qld but that’s the extent of my personal involvement in agriculture because, being born female, meant I was wholly excluded from every business aspect of the family farm. Therefore, at 17 I left home with a desire to go to university, travel the world, and big dreams of becoming the next Florence Nightingale. Over the 25 years since then, what life has taught me is that I needn’t be Florence Nightingale or anyone else other than Alison Fairleigh.

My passion is rural mental health and I’ve used social media to cut through isolation and provide a platform to raise awareness of, and generate discussion for, better mental health in our communities.  Underpinning this is my own personal journey through mental ill health – PTSD and depression – and I share my story wherever I go to not only provide encouragement for others, but to break down the stigma that is still so prevalent in our society. I long for the day when, after speaking about my journey to a room full of rural people, I’m not the one left standing awkwardly alone at the refreshment table as if somehow I am contagious.

NRHC April 2013 FairleyOne of the greatest challenges facing the future of Australia’s agricultural sector and rural communities is the health and wellbeing of our farmers. Evidence indicates that the suicide rate among Queensland’s agricultural workers alone – including farmers, farm managers, farm hands and shearers – is over twice the rate of those in other occupations. If we are to have sustainable rural industries, then we need a sustainable rural workforce and good mental health is key. Often we focus on the men in these situations, but women are the brokers and so often the ones left to pick up the pieces.

Being awarded the 2013 RIRDC Qld Rural Woman of the Year provides me with a much larger platform from which to give voice to my concerns and the opportunity to make a genuine difference on a practical level through targeted, regional interventions and preventative programs to improve rural mental health. But it also enables me to encourage and support other rural women to step up and take leadership roles, just as Nicole is doing through her wonderful blog series. So … are you a woman with a story to tell? Then do it! Let your voice be heard too. Isolation is no longer a barrier. We have social media to thank for that.