Farmers are admired for the way they reach out and help neighbours and friends in time of need. However, they are also renowned for keeping their problems
Despite farming being a good industry to be in, we are all familiar with the challenges of farm life.It can be tough at times. Financial pressure. Overwork.
Isolation. And it is a tragic reality that this takes both a physical and mental toll on the health of individual farmers.
A report by the National Centre for Farmer Health found that rural populations have an elevated risk of suicide, with a 66 per cent higher
risk of death than those in metropolitan areas.
Stress and depression can have tragic consequences and while there is no difference in the prevalence of mental illness between city and regions, those
in the country remain at a distinct disadvantage to our city cousins.
It is harder to find help in regional, rural or remote areas. Poor access to services and professionals, cost, and continued reluctance to seek help all
contribute to more pronounced mental illness consequences in rural communities, including a suicide rate almost double what it is in the cities, according
to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
A report by mental health charity Sane Australia also found that access to medical assistance in the bush is compromised, owing to around 50 per cent less
money being spent on mental health services in rural and remote Australia.
Add to this travel times required to reach medical services and the stigma around mental illness still felt in many smaller communities and the issue becomes
a real problem.
It is a problem that extends beyond the Australian outback. We can look to the United States to see that our farmers are not alone in battling depression
and other mental health issues.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled a breakdown of suicide rates by profession, and farmers have the highest rates of suicide by
more than 30 percent. This study found almost identical factors contributing to depression amongst primary producers, including social isolation, financial
strain, and barriers to seeking mental health services.
The statistics are clear considering the Australian dairy industry is in a period of recovery after two challenging seasons and cash flow for many farmers
remains under pressure, while the global dairy industry continues to suffer a downturn. There are reports from the States that dairy farms are disappearing
due to the downturn and many farmers, while incredibly resilient, are now at poverty level.
We tend to acknowledge the strengths and the virtues of the dairy industry, such as improved prospects in a global market, but we must also pay attention
to the many farmers continue to suffer significant financial pressure.
We understand some farmers are suffering emotionally and physically because they simply do not have the resources to get by. We are aware of families suffering
because the farm must come first, and the farm is struggling.
There are of course understandable sensitives around pride and privacy and the silence can be deafening.
This could be because key individuals and organisations do not realise this situation exists, or because farmers are trying to project a positive but unrealistic
image of our industry.
There is little point in talking about where we will be in two years’ time if we can’t get through the present.
Some of the consequences of this silence include farmers feeling isolated or not realising they could seek help, farming families suffering short and long-term
damage as they try to cope, pressure on paying bills, impact on children’s education and farmers departing the industry.
This is a conversation we need to have. And we need to take care that we are not blaming farmers for poor business skills, or some other perceived ‘lack’.
We must find ways to talk about it, so we can create positive opportunities for farmers to help themselves and for others to help them. We must aim to
take away the stigma associated with financial stress. We’re all in this together.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, call:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467