This is the first in a series of occasional articles in relation to the mental health of Australia’s farmers.

A recent industry survey  revealed record-low morale among a subset of Australian horticulturalists. The survey cited increasing costs of production, tightening margins and a shortage of skilled labour as major factors in combination forcing growers to consider their futures.

Not having control over certain aspects of farm life is par for the course but can lead to a build-up of stress. Some of these factors include the weather, markets, water supply, government intervention and rising costs.

All of us experience a degree of stress in our daily lives, whether it be associated with a busy lifestyle, things not going to plan, unexpected problems, family issues – you name it.

Most of us manage to deal with this stress in one way or another and it doesn’t become a major issue.

However, when stressors build upon one another and we have no effective way of coping or managing, (or the coping mechanisms only further exacerbate the situation), the stress can become chronic and result in a constant sense of pressure, overload and feeling overwhelmed.

If unattended to, this may result in the individual spiraling into a black hole and experiencing other complications such as health problems.

Most people, if they have a physical health problem, will toddle off to the doc and have it looked into.

Maintaining good mental health is just as important but too often neglected.

New research released earlier this year paints a saddening picture of the mental health of Australia’s farmers with 30% reporting a decline in their mental health over the past few years.

The National Farmer Wellbeing Report  commissioned by Norco, a 100% farmer owned dairy co-operative, in partnership with the National Farmers’ Federation, found that in recent years, 45% of Australian farmers have felt depressed, with 64% experiencing anxiety. Even more devastating, 45% of Australian farmers have had thoughts of self-harm or suicide, while 30% have actually attempted self-harm or suicide.

Australian farmers are twice as likely to commit suicide when compared to the general population with the country losing a farmer every 10 days to suicide.

Common warning signs

So, what are some of the more common warning signs that you, a family member, friend or neighbour may not be coping and may need help?

  1. Changes in habits, routines, avoidance of others

Stops attending regular meetings, church, sporting activities, other groups  

Shows less interest than before, becomes almost reclusive, withdraws and isolates themselves from others.

  • Changes in demeanour

Appears anxious, depressed, worried, expressionless, alternatively becomes angry/aggressive more easily, overly emotional, expresses hopelessness, worthlessness

  • Changes in physical appearance

Weight change, may appear dishevelled, unkempt, dirty, unshaven when previously regularly clean shaven.

  • Substance misuse

Drinking more than normal, illicit drug use

  • Neglect of the farm

Property appearance declines (weeds, unrepaired fence lines), machinery remains in a state of disrepair, normal farming activities not completed, less activity on the farm noticeable, farm animals neglected

These are just some but the greater the number of signs a person shows, the greater the need for help.

Multiple signs should be taken seriously.

If the changes are rapid and significant, more immediate assistance may be required.

How to help?

Firstly, reach out and initiate a conversation.

Listen and be sympathetic.

Offer to help.

Have some knowledge of what support services are available in your area, whether they be financial counselling services, family or personal counselling services and services that can provide material aid.

There are also a variety of help lines available where people needing support can speak with a professional in a confidential manner.

Need immediate help?

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, contact any of these free 24/7 hotlines:

Also, the Farmer Assistance Hotline 13 23 16 is available Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm and can provide information on family and mental health support services and also payments and services for rural Australians.