In this issue of Mentally minded, we’re diving into a topic that hits close to home for many of us – mental health in the farming community.
We all know someone, be it a farmer or a man, who may be silently battling the ups and downs of mental health.
Recently, the National Farmer Wellbeing Report 2023 gave us a wake-up call. The numbers revealed that our Aussie farmers are facing some serious mental health challenges.
Picture this: almost half of them (45%, to be exact) have felt the weight of depression, and a whopping 64% have experienced anxiety.
These figures are eye-opening, and we can’t ignore the reality that many farmers are silently struggling.
Immediate action is needed
The report also highlighted that 45% of our farmers have had suicidal thoughts, and a staggering 30% have either self-harmed or attempted suicide.
It breaks our hearts to say this, but every 10 days, an Australian farmer takes their own life. Let that sink in for a moment. These numbers are alarming, and we need to take immediate action.
What’s even more concerning is that many farmers suffer in silence. Can you believe that over half of them (51%) choose not to burden their loved ones with their problems?
They’d rather bottle it up inside, thinking they’re sparing their family and friends. But here’s the truth – reaching out for help is never a burden.
We need to create an environment where our farmers and men feel comfortable talking about their mental health struggles without judgment or shame.
The report revealed another heart-breaking fact: one in five farmers with mental health challenges hesitates to seek or receive help.
Jo Hincks, Lead Rehabilitation Consultant from Acumen Health said farmers, like many people with challenges, may feel caught in a tug-of-war between wanting support and feeling reluctant to reach out.
“Let’s not forget the one in seven farmers who find it difficult to access suitable mental health services in their communities,” Jo said.
“The isolation and lack of resources only worsen the already challenging situation.”
Step up the support
Now, here’s a call to action: we need to step up and be there for our farmers and men who need help. It’s time to break down the barriers and normalise conversations about mental health.
Let’s check in on our friends, family members, and neighbours – those who are out there working hard to provide for us.
“Be observant,” Jo advises. “If you notice signs of anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issues, start a conversation.
“It doesn’t have to be formal or fancy, just a simple, ‘Hey, how are you really doing?’ can make a world of difference.
“Give them a safe space to express themselves. Sit down with them over a cuppa or lend an open ear when they need to vent.
“Remember, it’s not about fixing their problems but being a compassionate and understanding presence in their lives. Let them know they’re not alone, that their feelings are valid, and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
But here’s the tricky part – farmers and men often face unique challenges in seeking help. They might worry about how they’ll be perceived, or fear being judged.
That’s why it’s crucial for us to be supportive and non-judgmental. Encourage them to consider professional help, like reaching out to a mental health professional or joining support groups.
Remind them that seeking assistance is not something to be embarrassed about, it’s a brave step towards reclaiming their wellbeing.
Mental health challenges in the farming community aren’t just isolated incidents; they’re part of a larger issue.
A staggering 76% of Australian farmers believe that the vital role they play in feeding the nation and contributing to our economy is undervalued by the public.
It’s disheartening to think that those who work tirelessly to provide us with food, often facing unpredictable weather conditions and financial uncertainties, don’t receive the recognition they deserve.
This lack of acknowledgment can further exacerbate feelings of isolation and contribute to mental health struggles.
Moreover, farmers often feel forgotten when it comes to public policies and services. They reside in rural and remote areas, far from the bustling city centres where attention and resources seem to concentrate.
Accessing mental health services becomes a challenge due to geographical distances, limited healthcare facilities, and the scarcity of specialised professionals in these areas.
Consequently, one in seven farmers with mental health challenges reports difficulty accessing suitable services within their community.
The impact of natural disasters, compounded by financial stress and inflation, further adds to the mental health burden faced by farmers.
It’s no secret that climate change is wreaking havoc on our environment. Over the past five years, a staggering 88% of farming operations have been significantly affected by natural disasters.
These events, such as droughts, floods, and wildfires, not only devastate crops and livestock but also take an immense toll on farmers’ emotional wellbeing.
Imagine pouring your heart and soul into nurturing your land and caring for your animals, only to see it all destroyed in a matter of moments.
The financial losses, the pain of seeing animals suffer, and the arduous task of rebuilding and recovering become overwhelming.
It’s no wonder that 20% of farmers admit to feeling defeated and considering giving up after a natural disaster.
And when 40% of those contemplating leaving cite climate change as the primary reason, we can’t ignore the urgent need for climate action.
How we can help
Talk about mental health openly and honestly, both within farming communities and in wider society.
“Break down the stigma and let everyone know that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a courageous step towards healing,” Jo says.
Encourage local governments, community organisations, and mental health initiatives to prioritise and invest in mental health support specifically tailored to the unique needs of farmers.
By bolstering services and improving accessibility, we can ensure that no farmer feels left behind or forgotten.
Supporting sustainable farming practices, promoting resilience-building measures, and advocating for policies that prioritise climate action will not only benefit the environment but also alleviate some of the mental health burdens faced by farmers.
Reach out to the farmers and men in your life.
“Be a friend, a listening ear, and a source of encouragement. Let them know that you’re there for them, ready to support them through their mental health journey.” Jo added.
“Sometimes, a simple gesture of kindness, like offering practical assistance on the farm or sharing a meal together, can make all the difference.”
Keep the conversation going
Remember, reaching out and supporting someone who may be struggling is not limited to a specific profession or gender.
Mental health affects us all, and by fostering an environment of empathy, understanding, and open communication, we can break the stigma and build a stronger, more resilient community.
So, whether you’re a farmer, know a farmer, or simply care about the wellbeing of those who put food on our tables, get behind supporting mental health in the farming community.
Let’s keep the conversation going and continue to be there for one another. Together, we can cultivate a healthier, happier, and more mentally resilient farming community.
Remember, if you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774
- Head to Health
Sources and further information
- National farmer wellbeing report 2023 – Norco Foods
- Paula Olsen – National Rural Health Alliance Council
- Suicide in rural and remote Australia – National Rural Health Alliance
- Mental health in rural and remote Australia – National Rural Health Alliance
- Rural and remote mental health help sheet – National Rural Health Alliance
- National Farmers Federation
- Farmer suicides – Exploring ten years of coronial data (2009-2018)
The following resource has been provided for informational purposes only. As it does not consider your personal circumstances and needs, we recommend you obtain your own professional health advice to determine how this resource may apply to you.