General News

Support workers reach out over the farm gate in Northern NSW

A conversation with a drought support worker, often known as a farm gate counsellor, is guiding people across the state on the path to mental wellbeing, thanks to an additional $4.38 million investment by the NSW Government.

NSW Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor said the program involving 27 drought support workers across eight Local Health Districts was being extended because the specialised care they provided to communities is crucial.

“The impact of the ongoing drought, compounded by devastating bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, is weighing heavily on our rural communities,” said Mrs Taylor.

“Having an authentic conversation wherever it works for the person doing it tough can really help to get the ball rolling towards improved mental health and wellbeing.

“This support is about providing a friendly face who gives the right help, at the right place, at the right time.”

Drought support workers, often called ‘farm gate counsellors’, come from a variety of backgrounds, from individuals with nursing degrees to peer workers who combine invaluable lived experience with on-the-job mental health training and support.

Fiona Couch is a drought support clinician who covers the North Coast of NSW, using her local knowledge and experience to engage with the community.

“Being fourth generation of a dairying family in the region, I can speak the language, and have a deep understanding of the connection to the land, the joys and sorrows.

“I have received such positive feedback. On many occasions people have spoken of what a blessing this has been as they would not have accessed other services.”

The additional funding is available under the Emergency Drought Relief Package which was announced earlier this month by the NSW Government. It includes an $11.93 million investment to improve access to and delivery of mental health services in rural and remote communities.

For a full list of drought support measures, including drought mental health programs, go to: and



Fiona Couch [Northern NSW]

After a decade supervising and directing clinicians, Ms. Couch was delighted to get back on the front line to maintain her own clinical skills and experience.

She comes from a fourth-generation farming family in the region, so she has experienced first-hand the challenges, rewards, and stressors of the people she is reaching out to.

“I’m incredibly blessed to still live in the family homestead built by my great grandparents in 1917 and can only imagine the impact of losing that to the prolonged effects of drought or fire. My home was threatened by fire last November however I am one of the lucky ones and it was spared”, she says.

“Being fourth generation of a dairying family from the region, I’m able to speak the language of farming, having a deep understanding of the connection to the land with all the joys and sorrows”.

“This experience, though, certainly contributed to my desire to help my rural community with the effects of the drought, fire and other adversities.”

Ms. Couch is passionate about what she does and finds it incredibly rewarding reaching out to people who would otherwise have remained disconnected from mental health services. She says that one of the real advantages of the Farm Gate Counsellors program is that it allows busy rural people to access services at a time that suits them.