With a disproportionate number of suicides in the rural sector, Federated Farmers is calling for a proactive approach to solve the problem.
Hawke’s Bay farmer and the province’s Dairy Chairperson, David Hunt, has experienced depression first hand. He knows just how frightening and lonely it can be. Here is his story:
“A farmer suicide recently compelled me to come forward, as I have great respect for what John Kirwan has done for mental health and I wanted to share my experience to help farmers. What helped me accept my depression were the people opening up to me about theirs. There is no shame in it, depression is a hereditary illness that causes a chemical imbalance in your brain, there’s no choosing what illness you get,” he says
“Depression affected me to the point that I couldn’t physically work for 12 months. I was incapable of driving a motor vehicle let alone running my farm, at my worst I was living on three hours sleep a night. The tiny little things become a real issue for me and I battled to get through each day.
“Farmers can be their own worst enemies, we struggle to let people in or ask for help. Working in isolation makes the problem harder to identify. With the stigma around depression I didn’t want to admit I had a problem, let alone take medication.
“By the time I sought help, my original doctor had left the practice so I ended up seeing several different locums all offering me different advice because they didn’t know me. There seems to be a shortage of resources in the rural health sector to cope with the problem.
“We need to do something about this. More people take their lives through depression than road accidents, but we are not talking about it. If we don’t address the increasing numbers of rural suicides, we are letting farmers down.
“If you think someone is struggling, be brave, pick up the phone, knock on the door or find someone who has a rapport with that person to help. At least you tried.”
Federated Farmers – Jeanette Maxwell – Health Spokesperson
Recently released Statistic New Zealand figures show there are significantly more rural suicides per population than in urban areas.
The most recent suicide rate for people living in rural areas is 16 per 100,000 people compared to 11.2 for every 100,000 people living in urban areas.
While there is a lot of fantastic work already being done to address depression on a national scale, Federated Farmers believes more resources need to be invested to address rural mental wellbeing.
Federated Farmers is trialing an initiative to get people talking about depression, with the aim of removing the stigma around the problem, and helping people get help when they need it.
The Federation’s Health Spokesperson, Jeanette Maxwell believes there needs to be a targeted strategy for approaching depression in the farming sector.
“We need to have an ambulance at the top of the cliff not just at the bottom,” she says.
“Like any healthy community we need our neighbours and our friends to watch out for us, and reach out to those we recognise are struggling. Rural mental health services need better resources to provide a more accessible response, with some regions facing a three month waiting list to see a rural mental health professional.”
“In the face of mounting compliance costs, increased local and central government demands, weather events, coupled with the reduced forecasted lamb and milk pay-outs, along with the normal stresses and strains of life, things are only going to get harder for rural communities”.
“The reality is rural people can get depressed. In a more isolated work environment the challenges, to get better, can be more difficult. We need to work together with the people who are already trying to make a difference to ensure that when rural people need help and support they get it,” Mrs. Maxwell says.