Suicide concerns rise for farmers as dairy downturn takes its toll

Concerns over farmers' mental health are on the rise as people struggle fter the dairy pay-out cuts.
TONY BENNY/FAIRFAX NZ

Concerns over farmers' mental health are on the rise as people struggle fter the dairy pay-out cuts.

A rise in substance abuse and domestic violence in Golden Bay's rural community raises concerns over suicide as the dairy downturn continues to bite, mental health workers say.

Community Mental Health Services (CMHS) Clinical Manager, Tony Keatley said rural health professionals had undergone specialist training in suicide prevention and the needs of the farming community had been identified as a major priority.

Keatley said they were "very mindful" of the dairy downturn and its impacts on the rural community.

"We understand that rural folk are resilient and seasoned to the ups and downs inherent in the sector," he said. "The concern has increased given the duration of the current downturn affecting the dairy industry as the exposure to long term pressure takes toll on even the most resilient." 

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Mental health workers had seen increased domestic violence and family discord as well as an increase in alcohol and drug use in Golden Bay, Keatley said.

In New Zealand last year, there were 564 deaths by suicide. 

Suicide is an increasing problem in this country with males making up 75 per cent of deaths. The majority of those live in the rural community. 

The figures show 27 farmers committed suicide last year in New Zealand, compared to 22 in the previous year and 19 in 2012/2013.

Almost 200 farmers died by suicide in the past eight years in New Zealand.​ 

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According to figures released under the Official Information Act, police were called to an estimated 697 suicide attempts or threats in the Tasman region last year. This was up from 623 in 2014 and 582 in 2013.

The slump in dairy fortunes was triggered by a 25 cent per-kilogram drop in Fonterra's forecast milk payout for the current season to $3.90 per kilogram of milk solids. 

The cuts are leaving many dairy farmers facing a winter of mounting debts and possible forced farm sales as farmers would get paid less than half of what they were earning only a couple of years ago.

Mental health workers say farmers' stress levels are running high as increasing compliance costs, growing local and central government demands and weather events compound. 

The issue is on the Government's radar. It announced a $500,000 boost for rural mental health last year.

The Ministry of Primary Industries and the Ministry of Health, in conjunction with the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa NZ are running a series of nationally run suicide prevention workshops this year

Keatley said CMHS team members in Golden Bay had participated in specific training around suicide prevention in the rural sector.

They would also be developing relationships with local organisations and individuals who have inroads to the sector.

"The impacts would spread throughout the entire community but it's the spouses and the families of farmers who often feel it first."

Labourers, contractors and downstream industry workers would also feel the pinch as business operators suspend maintenance and farm development work, Keatley said.

DairyNZ Wellness Researcher Dana Carver said they had been running an extensive wellness and wellbeing programme within the primary industry. 

Initiatives such as GoodYarn workshops and Health Pitstops were aimed to raise awareness of mental health issues farmers may be facing, as well as partnering on research projects around farmer wellness and adding wellness messages to their technical resources.

"One of our biggest projects is working with Ministry of Primary Industry to help boost the Rural Support Trusts across the country so that they are better equipped to help farmers who are experience excessive stress or mental illness."

Carver said research from 2011-2013 shows that some farmers were already experiencing burnout.

"Financial pressures on top of that is bound to cause some issues but for the most part we've found that farmers are pulling together, planning well, communicating with their bankers and accountants and working through things in order to create resilience," she said.​

Where to get help

The Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812) will refer callers to some of the helplines below:

Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757

Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz

0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.

Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.

Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

 

 - Stuff

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