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Australian farmer's mental health matters


When we think about keeping workers safe on farms, we immediately think of machinery or vehicle accidents or incidents with handling animals. Unfortunately, there is another deadly, sometimes unseen, danger for workers lurking on our farms: mental illness.

Since the 1980s, the rate of suicide has been consistently higher in rural areas of Australia than in urban areas - shockingly sometimes as much as 40% higher. The rate of suicide amongst male farmers has also been higher than among non-farming rural males. Research from the Royal Flying Doctor Service found that remote Australians die from suicide on average at twice the rate of those that live in the city, yet are only able to access mental health services at a fifth of the rate.

Why is this happening to our farmers and what can we do to help?

The perfect storm

A combination of circumstances in rural Australia has not only made it difficult to identify and treat mental illnesses, but has also allowed them to flourish. Isolation, from both friends and medical treatment, is one factor. Another factor is the general culture and misunderstanding in some rural communities, that issues like depression or anxiety are a weakness and something you can ‘snap out of’.

Then add in the economic pressures of environmental events such as droughts, floods, storms or simply a ‘bad’ year, and it can be all too much to bear for someone who may already be unwell or struggling.

Another underlying factor for many rural Australians is knowing when and how to ask for help, and having services available to access when in need.

Looking to the future

Overcoming the stigma that is attached to speaking up and seeking help is a step in the right direction to overcome these staggering figures that don’t appear to be decreasing. Australia needs to better support vulnerable groups in all areas of society; we need to build protective factors in children and young people, and we need to build healthy and resilient people and communities. Local communities, particularly in rural settings, play a vital role in changing the beliefs and behaviours that are currently associated with mental health issues.

Farmers and rural Australians have the most important role to play in combatting mental health issues and the suicide rate, they are best-placed to identify local opportunities for suicide prevention and push forth the changes that are so desperately needed to support people in need.

What to look out for?

For those working on their own, or those that lack access to social interaction due to their remote locations, the added weight of depression or anxiety can be extreme, lonely, frightening and confusing. It’s important to check in with people you know may be facing a tough time. A simple chat with a mate can be extremely valuable; simply asking, “Are you ok” can mean the world to someone stuck in the depths of their own darkness.

Signs of depression to look out for:

  • Becoming more withdrawn
  • Not enjoying activities you once did
  • Insomnia
  • Relying on alcohol and/or drugs
  • Lack of concentration
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Feeling overwhelmed and feeling useless

Help and support

If you or someone you know needs crisis support, please contact the following 24 hour support lines:

Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

Other online resources and support can be found through the following organisations:

Shine Lawyers

Shine Lawyers cares about the safety and wellbeing of Aussie farmers, who are such an integral part of our great nation. If you're suffering from a psychological condition or injury that happened at work, our team can help. We have experts in psychological injury compensation claims, workers compensation claims and superannuation claims who can help you secure the support needed to heal.

Sources

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: August 21, 2019.

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