In hard times Hunter farmers must focus on mental health, experts say

The traditional farmers’ approach to tough times might be to knuckle down and get on with the work at hand.

But experts are urging people communities across the Hunter to take care of their mental health, as the effects of the drought gripping the region put more and more pressure on landholders. 

Hunter New England Rural Adversity Mental Health Program coordinator Sarah Green said the key message was to get help if you think you need it.

She said the conversation about mental health in rural Australia had become louder in recent years, but a gap remained between people who worked the land and access to services that could help them.

“If you’ve got a shop in town you can escape it for a period of time,” she said. 

“For farmers, they cant. They’re sitting there looking at brown dirt day in and day out praying for rain.

“So many farmers I speak to have a big debrief about what’s going on but then they say ‘but mate, I’ll be right when it rains’. 

“I have to sit there and say: ‘It’s about being alright when it’s not raining’.”

Not all farmers going through tough times battle mental health problems, but the pressures of working the land are hard-hitting during droughts – as one farmer told Fairfax Media in Scone last week, running a farm is a “daylight to dark” job.

Craig Murphy knows the pressure as well as anyone. He works alone at the Blandford property that’s been in his family since European settlement. 

He’s recently had to let his farmhand go and the workload is immense.

His voice was barely audible the day he spoke to Fairfax Media – when asked if he was unwell, he said he was running on about four hours sleep and was tired.

“I think everyone’s pretty much the same, everyone is pretty well down,” he said of the mood in his community. 

“Your work load is phenomenal.”

But Mr Murphy said he was determined to hang on.

“You’ve got to treat it as a challenge because if you let it get to you, it’ll get to you,” he said.

Tim Saal is the project manager for Rural Minds, a program funded by the Movember Foundation that runs workshops around Australia to promote mental health awareness and make it easier for people in rural communities to get the help if they need it.

Mr Saal said droughts, unlike floods or fires, were slow-acting and had “a decaying effect on mental health and wellbeing”.

He agreed with Ms Green that there was a divide in rural Australia between services and people in need.

“The stigma is certainly decreasing but we’ve got such a long way to go,” he said.

Help is always available at Lifeline: 13 11 14.

  • ‘Drought’s decaying effect is not just on the land’ is part of an ongoing series of reports by the Newcastle HeraldMaitland MercurySingleton Argus and Hunter Valley News investigating the effects of drought of local farmers in the Upper and Lower Hunter.
This story Drought’s ‘decaying effect’ is not just on the land first appeared on Newcastle Herald.

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