Farmers frustrated by the mental health puzzle.
Suicide rates are 40% higher outside metro areas and higher again among the agricultural community. Bob Katter claims “A Farmer dies by suicide every four days”. This is hard to provide one way or the other due to a lack of reliable data but the point remains that suicide is a real problem among the farming community. Why is this the case?
How many male farmers do you know that talk openly about their emotional distress?
How many do you know that have told their loved ones they may not be able to cope much longer and that they need care and consideration? You are right- not many! Farmers pride themselves on their ruggedness and strength.
Farmers are isolated, pride themselves on their self-reliance and lead a stressful life-style.
The life-style is stressful due to occupational factors, variable weather, harvest, prices and economic conditions. Social isolation due to distance and lack of easy access to social supports. The nature of farming work is often solitary.
Male farmers report less psychological distress than their female associates, yet they kill themselves much more often? What gives?
It turns out that depression tests look for complaints of worrying, nervous distress and unhappiness. All characteristics that a self-sufficient male farmer is unlikely to admit. Instead the male farmer may withdraw from their friends, throw themselves into their work or use alcohol or other substances to numb the pain.
Mental health services are also thin on the ground in regional/rural and especially outer rural areas. Then there is the stigma associated with seeking help. How many farmers do you know that want to brag about how good the Doctor was in stopping his noose tying habit?
GP’s that are often the entry point to mental health care are also scarce in the country. Male farmers are much more comfortable seeing their GP regarding physical problems.
How to overcome the macho self-help habit of the male farmer? Hard to know but the internet seems to be used for just about everything else, maybe it has something to offer here as well !
Dr Zelko Mustac, Psychiatrist at Dokotela