Farmers urged: Be aware of stress

23:59, Jul 09 2012

Experts are urging dairy farmers to be conscious of their mental health.

Dr Neels Botha, of AgResearch, has been studying the impacts of stress on farmers for the past three years.

More than 900 dairy farmers around the country have been interviewed as part of a ongoing study Mr Botha is conducting.

"When we ask people how they are coping, 98 per cent of people say they are coping well," he said.

But he said the reality is that about 17 per cent of dairy farmers suffer mental health issues.

This compared to an average of about 11 per cent nationwide, he said.


Dr Botha said there are aspects to do with a farming lifestyle that can impact on farmers' mental health.

These include finances, weather, health and relationships with staff.

"One thing we know is that males don't recognise when they're having problems," Dr Botha said.

"It's about educating them about the symptoms."

He said men and women react differently to stress and depression.

Females tend to recognise when they are feeling down but when men were stressed it could often show up as symptoms such as aggression and alcohol consumption.

Dr Botha said it was important men talked about their emotional wellness.

"I think stigma is still a big issue. They don't like to talk to a medical professional, they like to talk to their family and mates first."

Gordon Hudson, of Like Minds Taranaki, attended a farmers' wellness workshop at AgResearch in Hamilton recently which discussed the issue of mental health for farmers.

Dr Botha was one of the speakers at the workshop.

"We totally acknowledge just how difficult farming can be, it is the total all-encompassing lifestyle," Mr Hudson said.

He said aspects of the job such as the daily commitment, uncertainty of returns, staff relationships, rough weather conditions and isolation can have negative effects of farmers' mental health.

"Sometimes these can all get too much and can impact on personal relationships," Mr Hudson said. "This, in turn, can impact on their ability to manage their professional and personal life."

He pointed to nationwide Rural Support Trust as a source of help.

He said the organisation did a great job of helping farmers in times of stress.

More importantly, he said it was farmers helping farmers.

"Farmers need to be aware that there is no health without mental health," Mr Hudson said.

Manawatu Standard