Media Release

Recognising farmers and rural health professionals on World Mental Health Day

10 October 2014

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, today used World Mental Health Day to highlight the resilience and camaraderie of farming communities across Australia.

“Australia has a history built on the hard work and endeavour of people in primary industries and as a nation we are at the right place at the right time to have a great agricultural future.  But with hard work and financial pressure comes other stresses that at times can have a devastating impact on those whose shoulders it rests. Very often those stresses are carried alone and so it is important for us to assist those who are under pressure and most importantly recognise that these pressures exist,” Minister Joyce said.

“Similar stresses in business may exist in major cities, but in cities you are closer to support structures to manage them, you have more colleagues that you see day-to-day and ask how you are going and you are more likely to be able to take time off work to deal with your health issues, including mental health, when they arise.

“Farmers and others in rural and remote Australia are therefore exposed to a range of risk factors associated with living and working in the bush that increases the likelihood of acquiring a mental illness in their lifetime.

“If the cows need milking, or the sheep need shearing, or the crops need harvesting, or the windmill needs to be fixed for the cattle to get water then you aren't going anywhere and you and your problems stay parked under your hat.

“The health literature tells us that it’s not always drought or simply making ends meet that impact on farmer mental health – but a whole variety of factors that can contribute to a person’s mental wellbeing.

“Today is about recognising the mental health challenges faced by farmers and others living in rural and remote Australia and thanking the people who work with them in providing appropriate support services.”

Minister Joyce paid tribute to the many health professionals including counsellors, mental health nurses, GPs and psychologists for their commitment and dedication to farming communities right across rural and remote Australia.

“Our hardworking health professionals often work in sometimes difficult environments with little support, isolated both physically and professionally from their peers, but they do a wonderful job and I thank them for it,” Minister Joyce said.

“I also acknowledge the many outstanding organisations, community groups and individuals across rural Australia that raise awareness and fight the stigma associated with mental health issues in their communities.

“There is a variety of great work being undertaken across rural Australia to support our farmers and their families, which aims to help them be healthy, happy and continue to be world class producers. For example, in my own electorate of New England, the Farm Link programme of mental health workshops run out of Inverell has reached out very effectively across the region.

“If someone needs help, they should know that there are people whose job it is to help – people with skills and empathy that can help manage problems before they become a curse and to let them know that there is always a another way and a better day coming.

“I would urge anyone struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety to speak to a health professional, call a support line or even just talk to a mate."

There are a range of support services available to help people in need such as Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636), Lifeline (13 11 44), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) and MensLine Australia (1300 78 99 78).

The Department of Agriculture also provides free financial counselling to farmers and small rural businesses through the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS).

The Australian Government has also appointed Drought Coordinators who can refer individuals to access local social and mental health support measures in drought-affected areas.

More information on the RFCS and other support available to our farmers can be found on the Department of Agriculture website at www.agriculture.gov.au/agriculture-food/drought.