Depression and Mental health in remote areas: Let’s start initiating the conversation

Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers Federation, is familiar with the struggles that many members of the farming community face, day in day out.

The long days of labour intensive work as well as having to deal with unpredictable events, makes the reality of farm life tough for many farmers on a daily basis.

The lifestyle can result in severe stress which can often lead to serious depression and mental health illnesses and then, in the most extreme cases, to someone taking their own life.

Fiona says mental health in rural and regional Australia is a huge issue that urgently needs addressing. Here she highlights some of the contributing factors to depression and mental health in remote areas:

Isolation:

Farmers are generally isolated, their houses are far away from friends, family, neighbours, and the nearest town, meaning they have little human interaction.

This isolation can lead farmers to spiral down into depression and be left feeling unmotivated as they are alone over significant periods of time.

“Work on a farm is unrelenting, you might have to work several days at a stretch where you literally don’t get off your farm,” Fiona said.

“Sometimes if you’re in a depressed state, it’s quite hard to make the effort to go see a friend or your neighbours or even ring somebody to talk.  Too many farmers are left with the feeling of isolation and being alone.”

Social stigma:

In remote areas, the social stigma attached to depression and mental health prevents people, especially males, from talking about how they’re feeling.

Fiona says, generally, males suppress how they’re feeling even from their wives and close mates because it is seen as ‘unmanly’ to speak up about it in remote areas.

“There is a stigma about admitting when you’re not coping or admitting when you are worried about things, which hasn’t helped people coming forward,” said Fiona.

Rural communities need to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health because staying silent when suffering can lead to people taking their own lives.

“We have made a lot of steps forward in recognising the signs of depression and mental illnesses, in starting discussions and letting people know that it’s okay to talk, but we must keep going because the suicide rate is unacceptable in the bush, particularly among young males,” Fiona said.

“We need to openly address this as regional people and lower that rate.”

What can you do?

With one of the main problems being the silence of farmers, Fiona says the initial step we can all take is to talk to someone about how you’re feeling.

“One particular male that I know who is in his fifties, didn’t think there was anything wrong with him he was just feeling cranky and was having fights with everyone. He was upset all the time. His daughter said to him “Dad you’re not right, you need to go and get some help”. Then they went to the GP and he was able to access some medication which made him feel better and he has now made a full recovery.

Let’s not wait for people to initiate the conversation. Let’s initiate the conversation,” Fiona said.

If you notice a mate who isn’t quite right, let them know you are worried about them. Even though the conversation might be hard, it could save their life.

There are numerous mental health services in remote areas that offer immediate help and support including; rural health councillors, 24/7 phone and online services such as Lifeline and Beyond Blue.