CatholicCare offers free counselling for Hunter's drought affected farmers

Hard conditions: A property in Merriwa, in the Upper Hunter Valley, where farmers are hoping for rain after months of dry weather. Picture: Simon McCarthy
Hard conditions: A property in Merriwa, in the Upper Hunter Valley, where farmers are hoping for rain after months of dry weather. Picture: Simon McCarthy

A Hunter not-for-profit organisation is offering free mental health counselling to the region’s drought-plagued farmers and their families.

CatholicCare Social Services Hunter Manning will use commonwealth funding to provide free family and relationship support services, as well as counselling.

Following Fairfax Media’s coverage of the drought in the Upper Hunter, around Scone, Singleton, Merriwa and Muswellbrook, and in the Lower Hunter, in the Dungog and Clarence Town area, the service provider was keen to help struggling farmers.

It comes as the organisation plans to officially open its new office in Muswellbrook next Tuesday, after it started a facility in Singleton last year. 

It already has sites in Mayfield, Maitland, Cardiff, Gloucester, Forster and Taree.

CatholicCare Social Services Hunter Manning director Gary Christenson.

CatholicCare Social Services Hunter Manning director Gary Christenson.

Director Gary Christenson said counselling helped people develop coping mechanisms, gave them someone to talk to and work through some of the issues they faced.

The organisation helps people regardless of whether they are Catholic.

“The reason we expanded in the Upper Hunter is we saw a real community in need up there,” Mr Christenson said.

“We were conscious the farmers are doing it very tough and we wanted to become part of a local solution.

“Farmers doing it tough face a lot of mental health issues, socialisation, grief, loss and our counselling team can assist with some of that.”

The Hunter’s farmers are closing in on a year without a decent drop of rain – wet weather strong and persistent enough to soak the brown paddocks and allow growth to return.

“I think people should seek help because any time you try to operate in isolation can make the issues of despair or uncertainties magnified,” Mr Christenson said.

“Whereas if you do seek help through those issues, you can get some strategies to cope and you can also get access to other services.”

If you want assistance, visit catholiccare.org.au, call the Muswellbrook office on 6542 4400 or the Singleton office on 4015 2820.

Assistance is also available at Lifeline’s 24-hour help line: 13 11 14.

  • The Big Dry is a special ongoing series by the Newcastle Herald, Maitland Mercury, Singleton Argus and Hunter Valley News investigating the widespread effects of drought on farmers and the communities of the Hunter.

Deeper reading: The Big Dry