Alarming report on farmer mental health prompts peak body to call for urgent action – ABC News

Alarming report on farmer mental health prompts peak body to call for urgent action - ABC News

A report on the mental health of the country’s farmers has revealed that almost half have had thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Of the more than 1,300 farmers surveyed for the National Farmer Wellbeing Report, 30 per cent have attempted self-harm or suicide.

Commissioned by dairy co-operative Norco in partnership with the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), the report revealed that 45 per cent of respondents have felt depressed, with almost two thirds experiencing anxiety in recent years.

The survey comes after 12 months of natural disasters, rising input costs, falling commodity prices and an uncertain economic outlook

NFF vice president David Jochinke, a grain and livestock farmer from Victoria’s Wimmera region, said the results of the survey were “quite alarming”.

A man wearing a brown jumped stands in front of a 4WD smiling.
David Jochinke is calling for governments to take action on the mental health of farmers.(Supplied)

“For both the fact that mental health is still a huge issue for farmers across the nation, but then also the [lack of] access to services and the impact that it’s having on the communities is still quite huge,” he said.

“What we need to do is make sure that there’s adequate services that are readily accessible, and also continue to break down the stigma of what mental health is and how we as a community, and as a collective … can help have conversations at the right time and have interventions when needed.”

Dairy cows penned together, while in the background is wet hay and flood water.
The rebuild and recovery of flooding has taken a toll on dairy farmers.(Supplied: Rachel Nicholson)

The report found that natural disasters were the main trigger for the decline in mental health — followed by financial stress, inflation and cost pressures — with 88 per cent of farmers significantly affected by natural disasters over the past five years.

“What the data has also shown is that there’s a huge correlation between natural disasters and mental health, and the recovery period that that takes as well,” Mr Jochinke said.

“A lot of that is borne by both the financial stress on the business, but then also that feeling of isolation, and also some underlying feelings of not being appreciated for what farmers actually do.”

The report found more than three quarters of farmers felt their work was not valued by the Australian public.

A dead soybean crop near Coraki in the Richmond Valley.
The report found that of the 40 per cent of farmers who wanted to leave the industry, close to a quarter cited natural disasters as the reason why.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Mr Jochinke said both state and federal governments needed to look at what mental health services were being provided and coordinate with other state entities to make sure no-one was falling through the gaps.

“We want to make sure that we can reduce the amount of people who have mental health issues and the only way we can do that is to provide services on call and when these natural disasters occur,” he said.

Burnt farmland and trees.
The report found that natural disasters were the main factor impacting farmer mental health.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

“That has to be delivered either online and then also in person — there’s a combination of both that needs to happen there.

“We also know that there’s a long waiting time to see health professionals, doctors, psychologists out in rural areas, and that also needs to be addressed as well.”

South-east Queensland dairy farmer Ross Blanch operates a helpline for farmers and would like to see more farmers trained in crisis support work.

“It would be absolutely magic to have two or three in every shire that do what I do, and a lot of my work is just on the phone while I’m milking the cows and walking around the farm or when I’m chasing cows or when I’m ploughing or whatever,” he said.

A man in a blue shirt and cap sits at a table listening to someone on his mobile phone.
Ross Blanch has helped hundreds of farmers over the past four years.(Supplied: Norco)

Despite fielding hundreds of calls from farmers in crisis across the country over the past four years, he was still shocked by the report findings.

“I’ve always been aware that it was an issue, but the figures were far higher than I thought they would be,” he said.

“I know what droughts and floods do to you. They physically wear you down, you’re working and working and working, and then once your mental state is affected you don’t function properly and you lose all control of your business really, and that’s when people are thinking of self-harm.

“I think there is resources but farmers just won’t reach out for the help unless they’re pushed, and the ones that I’ve pushed that have got help they’re just amazing people today.

“I’ve got a couple there that I know were within a minute or two of their life, by other people referring them to me, but I got them back on the road.”

A small group of brown, skinny cows stand together on barren earth in a dust storm.
The report found one in five farmers surveyed felt completely defeated following a natural disaster.(Supplied: Scott Richardson)

The report found that 11 per cent of farmers experiencing mental health challenges felt too embarrassed to seek or receive help, 17 per cent didn’t want to, while 15 per cent reported difficulty in accessing suitable services in their community.

An empty dam.
Some farmers have had to endure years of crippling drought.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)


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