Federated Farmers is worried the stress caused by drought, snow, flooding and continuing poor returns will push more farmers to the brink of suicide and it is working to help those in contact with farmers to recognise the danger signs.
"You'd have to say the 2012 to 2013 season is certainly not one we're all going to rush out and remember for the good things that happened," said Federated Farmers health and safety spokeswoman Jeanette Maxwell.
"We've had a drought, we've had snow, we've had gale force winds, we've had terrible prices and it's just one on one on one.
"People are going to manage to get through winter and spring but you know they'll get through lambing and then they're still waiting for feed to grow, and lamb numbers are down because scanning is definitely looking pretty average at the moment, and at the end of spring you're exhausted, even in the good years.
"Mental fatigue and physical fatigue can be precursors to being mentally unwell."
With only a moderate improvement expected in lamb prices, Maxwell is worried that continued bad news will take its toll on already stressed farmers. "We are really concerned, I have to be honest. The issue is not going to be now, it's going to be in spring."
Federated Farmers are now setting up networks to ensure someone is there to keep an eye on farmers, to watch for signs of pressure.
"We've been networking with all the rural GPs and talking with the levy body organisations and insurance companies and agents who come up driveways, and making sure their bosses have got them up to speed about some of the signs you need to look for," said Maxwell.
Suicide among New Zealand farmers is disproportionately high. "Suicide rates are at 18 to one to quad bike deaths on New Zealand farms. I don't want to belittle quad bike deaths but I think we've got a much bigger issue on our hands."
In an effort to bring down rural suicides, the Dairy Women's Network ran two pilot mental health days in Waikato last year and is now taking the project nationwide, with funding from the Ministry of Health. A day was held in Rotorua last week, another will be held in Gore next week and Canterbury is on the list for later in the year, after calving and lambing.
Dairy farmer wellness project co-ordinator Lynda Clark said attendees learned ways to handle their own stress and anxiety and also to recognise clues that might indicate deteriorating mental health in others.
"It's a change in behaviour, that's the thing. Sometimes you can have someone who's normally incredibly active and then they're not. It's the change that's important," Clark said.
- © Fairfax NZ News