The advocacy group that represents dairy farmers across NSW is “extremely concerned” about the mental health of Hunter producers battling a drought that started almost a year ago.
Dairy Connect CEO Shaughn Morgan said farmers and their families should “reach out for help” from friends, neighbours or health service providers if they think the situation is getting on top of them.
He said services like the state government’s Drought Hub website could be helpful in providing links to resources such as low interest loans and financial advice. It also has a contact list of agencies that can help with mental health support.
“We are extremely concerned about the mental health outlook for farmers, many of whom have been used to enjoying very productive seasons ... but it is not the case at the moment,” Mr Morgan said.
The drought has resulted in huge feed expenses for livestock and farmers being forced to sell animals months early at as much as a third of the price they could have earned later in the year.
Hunter New England Rural Adversity Mental Health Program coordinator Sarah Green said farmers should focus on looking after their mental health the same way they should take care of their physical health – and get treated by a doctor if need be.
She said there were key warning signs that showed people were struggling.
“What people in the community will notice is [some affected farmers] are going to just not seem themselves,” Ms Green said.
Read more: Quadruple bypass after drought stress
“It’s that change in behaviour – someone who’s normally laid back who is all of a sudden losing their lolly over something minor. A lot of angry men are actually sad men.
“People socially isolate themselves. Changes in sleep, changes in alcohol abuse. In Australia we are kings of self medication.
“Sometimes people will even tell you they’ve got aches and pains, they can’t eat, they can’t sleep. Most mental illnesses manifest themselves physically. As you become unwell, you tend to lose insight into the fact that you’re unwell and it just becomes your normal.”
Help is always available at Lifeline on 13 11 14.
- ‘Advocate extremely concerned about mental health outlook for Hunter farmers’ is part of an ongoing series of reports by the Newcastle Herald, Maitland Mercury, Singleton Argus and Hunter Valley News investigating the effects of drought of local farmers in the Upper and Lower Hunter.