They are twice as likely to suffer from a mental disorder than another member of the general rural population and have one of the highest suicide rates of any industry, yet farmers are statistically reluctant to seek face-to-face professional help. Now, in a bid to combat the epidemic among our farming community, researchers from the University of South Australia – partnered with the National Centre for Farmer Health, Livestock SA, the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men’s Health, and the University of Adelaide – are developing an online program that will offer suffering farmers assistance in both an accessible and confidential manner. This online resource will be the first of its kind to be specifically aimed at farmers and tailored to their specific needs, lead researcher Kate Fennell tells us.
“The new website will be designed to provide an easy, accessible and confidential way for farmers to learn new ways to manage stress, how to successfully cope with issues that are beyond their control and improve their mental well-being,” says Dr Fennell, who understands more than most the unique challenges farmers’ face having grown up on a farm in South Australia. The program will be different to what is already available in the mental health space as it will be tailored to the specific challenges, needs and experiences people working in agriculture share. Among other features, the website will include a discussion board where members can vent their frustrations, as well as personal reminders and messages of encouragement if it detects that user participation is waning.
The profound difference between farmers and those who work in other industries shouldn’t be underestimated, warns Dr Fennell. “For example, their place of work is commonly their home, there is often a generational connection to the profession, their success is largely dependent on the weather and commodity prices which they obviously can’t control and they sometimes feel misunderstood by ‘outsiders,’” she explains. “We want to create something that taps into their way of thinking and acknowledges the fact that farmers are already very good problem solvers, but may benefit from advice on how to deal with things they can’t fix – like the weather.”
While the site is due for completion in mid-2017, Dr Fennell and her team are still looking for 80 farmers from all over Australia to assist with the development and evaluation of it. “We are still trying to find farmers who are willing to be interviewed about how they would like the website to be developed, to meet their unique needs,” she explains. If successful, the website has the potential to save lives – and money. “Given the widespread challenges in accessing mental health services in rural Australia and the high suicide rate among farmers, this sustainable, cost-effective intervention will develop coping skills in a vulnerable population that otherwise may not access support,” she concludes. “In turn, the intervention may prevent the development of severe mental health problems and (or) prompt earlier treatment, substantially reducing social and treatment costs.”
If you would like to assist Dr Fennell and her team, you can register your interest here.