How do we tackle mental illness within farmers?

TOUGH TIMES: Nanango third-generation farmer Jason Black says once farmers are down, it can be hard to get back up.
TOUGH TIMES: Nanango third-generation farmer Jason Black says once farmers are down, it can be hard to get back up. Kate Darvall

THE prevalence of mental illness across regional Australia is an issue too important to ignore, with farming now characterised by high rates of stress, injury and suicide.

Country stoicism and limited access to mental health services has caused one in three Australians who live in rural or remote areas to experience mental illness.

Those who work on the land face a range of stressors, the South Burnett itself fighting natural disasters in the past few years with little room for recovery.

Nanango third-generation farmer Jason Black has worked the land from a young age and now runs a dairy, feedlot, cropping and lucerne operation.

Although he believes things are looking up, he said the region had received a beating.

"Floods and drought has probably been the worst thing," Mr Black said.

"It's been constant with no gap in between and the flow-on effect has been financial.

"There's not a lot of money and you find if the farmers don't do well, the town doesn't do well."

With the change in climate, Mr Black and his family have lost yields, and storms have taken their toll on crops and equipment.

High expenses and low returns have, at times, worsened a dire situation.

"All of those things toll up and people don't realise," Mr Black said.

"Once you're down, it can be hard to get back up."

Personal strength, independence and toughing it out are central values in rural culture, and seeking help for mental health problems is seen as the antithesis of these values.

To help combat this culture, the Queensland State Government is investing $3.5 million to support the mental health of farmers struggling with the drought.

Senior clinicians will be placed in nine rural health services throughout Queensland, and community-based projects supporting rural people will be implemented.

The purpose of the package is to identify people at risk of suicide and work with community organisations to address mental health issues.

Norco Rural Kingaroy worker Gary Bazley said the package would help, but wasn't perfect.

"Farmers have always been known as battlers and you don't want people to know when you fail," he said.

"Australian farmers are a pretty proud bunch of people but there's not too many who would come and sit down next to you and admit they have a problem."

Member for Nanango Deb Frecklington was supportive of the idea.

"We've had two major floods and now a drought and people can just not afford to go through another one," she said.

"We need as much assistance in the bush as we can possibly get.

"I think what is important is that the discussion is started - people feel more comfortable talking about it."

Mr Black said it was an issue that the community should be responsible for.

"I believe it starts with your neighbours or your mate," Mr Black said.

"If you can see a problem over the fence, don't ignore it. Just keep an eye out for who's not happy in the community."

Topics:  farmer farmers health mental mental health regional remote rural south burnett

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