Written by: Carter Johnson | Farm Business Consultant | 0429 264 550
How frequently are you tending to the maintenance of your most crucial asset – your mental health?
The statistics tell us that two in five Australians over the age of 16 have experienced a mental health disorder at some point in their life, one in five have experienced a mental disorder which has lasted more than 12 months and one in 6 have experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviours.
They also tell us that people living in regional and remote areas are more likely to experience a chronic mental health condition than our city counterparts. Perhaps most confronting of all is that (per 100,000 people) major cities have the lowest suicide rate at 10.9 incidences, which increases as we move out of the cities to regional areas, reaching 29.4 incidences in very remote areas.
There are many reasons for the differences seen between the city and regional areas. If we were to focus on agriculture and farming in particular, financial insecurity, natural disasters, climate variability, working long and irregular hours, declining communities, isolation, changing legislation and changing market conditions all impact farmers mental health.
Access to treatment also presents challenges, as the number of subsidised mental health services (GP, Psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, psychologists, and health professionals) per 1,000 people sits at 525 for major cities and decreases as we move out of the cities to regional areas, reaching as low as 94 for very remote areas.
Then when we do have access to these services, we are less likely to utilise them due to travel times, concern around taking time away from work, a lack of access to reliable digital infrastructure, and our own attitudes – we would rather work through it on our own, we question the effectiveness of the professionals, we worry what others might think and we have concerns around the privacy of our discussions.
When all is said and done, mental health conditions don’t discriminate based on wealth, age, gender, or success. Anyone can suffer from mental health conditions and therefore it is important that we all know what tools are available to us to tackle this issue.
The first stop if you need help immediately (apart from calling 000 if it is an emergency). By using the following website – https://findahelpline.com/ – selecting Australia and the assistance you need, the website will provide you with a list of helplines that provide crisis counselling and support.
Some of the providers and phone numbers are:
Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
Lifeline – 13 11 14
MensLine – 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
The website presents plenty of providers, with different specialties, and has a guide on how to use the services at the bottom of the search page.
Although not always easy to book in, or visit (although telehealth is an option), seeing a GP is important as they can perform a mental illness assessment, develop a mental health care plan, and refer you onto psychologists, and other allied health professionals.
The development of a mental health care plan can give you subsidised access to mental health professionals. It provides up to 10 Medicare rebated individual psychological appointments and up to 10 group allied mental health services.
Note that if you don’t wish to utilise the mental health care plan, you can find a professional yourself using – https://psychology.org.au/find-a-psychologist – Find a psychologist – this includes those available via telehealth.
There are also a few online or over the phone psychologist and psychiatrist options too, such as
MindSpot – https://www.mindspot.org.au/courses/
Call to Mind – https://calltomind.com.au/i-want-to-see-a-psychiatrist
General mental health support and information.
There are plenty of resources available online or over the phone from multiple providers such as:
• Beyond Blue – https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
• Black Dog Institute – https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
• Head to Health, government initiative – https://www.headtohealth.gov.au/search-resources
• SANE – https://www.sane.org/
• This Way Up Clinic – https://thiswayup.org.au/
There are two interesting organisations which have information related directly to farming, they are:
National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH) – https://farmerhealth.org.au/
A not-for-profit organisation funded mainly by the Victorian government and quite Victorian focused for most of its initiatives. Although focused on total farmer health and safety, there are a few useful resources around managing stress (see the “Mental Health 4 Ag” program), factsheets on depression, stress, and relationships, including family relationships. They also partner with LYSN (mentioned above) and provide steps on how to access mental health services through the Medicare supported or self-funded route.
Ifarmwell – https://ifarmwell.com.au/
An online toolkit which has been created by the university of South Australia and has been funded through government departments, the National Centre for Farmer Health and industry bodies. This online tool kit contains interactive modules relating to coping with difficult circumstances, thoughts, and feelings, and is for farmers feeling down and stressed, but also for those who would like to improve their ability to cope with the uncertainty that comes hand in hand with farming. There are also some interesting tip sheets relating to coping with natural disasters and drought, managing conflict, managing succession planning, improving relationships and improving communication between business partners.
You, your friends, your family, and your community
One of the greatest strengths of rural areas are their communities, with higher levels of participation, social cohesion, volunteering and informal support networks between friends, neighbours and community when compared to our city counterparts. You can use this to your advantage by having open, honest, and meaningful conversations with one another about mental health.
There are some excellent initiatives, such as R U OK – https://www.ruok.org.au/ – which provide resources on how to approach these sorts of conversations. While acknowledging that these conversations can be challenging, they are extremely important to not only provide support to those who need it, but to help break the stigma surrounding mental health in rural communities.
The next time you sit down with 4 other friends, family or colleagues, there is a high chance that two of you would have experienced a mental health disorder at some point in your lives, and that’s okay. Your mental health matters, and you need to take the necessary steps to care for yourself and seek support.