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Can the Creative Arts improve men's mental health in rural Australia?

It is my hope that projects like THE INVISIBLE EDGE can start conversations between families, friends and communities to improve communication between men in order to improve mental health and the quality of lives.

While researching mental health issues for men in rural Australia as part of my Masters studies in Media Arts at UTS, it was not only alarming to discover that suicide is the largest cause of death for men in Australia under 44 years and that the rates of suicide and depression in rural Australia can be up to 6 times higher than in urban areas but also that many men in the country hold back from seeking help because of a negative stigma they perceive when seeking out and interacting with services and information.

In the past, lack of access to services and the Internet were considered hindrances to improving mental health in country areas, but as this becomes less the case with improved Internet access and improved medical and mental health services, there seems to be on on-going resistance by men to engage with services around mental health.

It has been reported that the national rates of suicide in Australia are at a 10 year high, and that the existing strategies around addressing this are in question.

So I have asked myself, can creative projects around mental health act as a link to connect those in need with information and services?

My life has been touched by the loss of two young male cousins, as well as the son of close friends to suicide. It made me consider ways of overcoming the stigma rural men face when confronting mental health issues. That is what has led me to has write and direct the short film, The Invisible Edge, as part of a wider interactive project, tapping into the arts as a tool to encourage conversation.

A 2014 report from the Australian Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG) noted that 59 per cent of regional dwellers saw the arts as having a big impact on "helping us manage stress, anxiety and depression".

The film, shot around Junee in New South Wales, explores the potential of the creative arts to inspire, encourage engagement and challenge existing ideas and behavior. It may very well be easier to watch a film that a friend or family member has shared with you via social media, than to log on to other more formal sites offering services around mental health.

The big picture is to set up a website for a number of creative projects around mental health. The ABC recently reported on the development of the project.

The film that will launch the initiative, is a psychological drama set in rural Australia, that looks at the emotional struggle between two brothers whose lives have taken different directions. David, played by Jake Arvonen, is a talented pianist who has returned to his rural home after breaking down on stage during his first international piano recital. His older brother Jack, played by Shaun Robert Foley, is single-handedly running the family's farm. Using narrative fiction, the film examines the brothers' oppressive but loving relationship, their struggles with jealousy, and their inability to communicate effectively to avoid a family tragedy.

It is my hope that projects like THE INVISIBLE EDGE can start conversations between families, friends and communities to improve communication between men in order to improve mental health and the quality of lives.

To date, we have funded the making of THE INVISIBLE EDGE ourselves, but in order to complete the project, we are crowdsourcing funding through the Australian Cultural Fund. Any support would be very much appreciated.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

The Invisible Edge is a project written and directed by Ian W Thomson and produced by James Cogswell. Ian is working as a freelance creative, strategist and director. He currently leads the Advertising and Media faculty at Macleay College - facilitating innovation, creativity and branding workshops.

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