Mikayla Spicer is a third year journalism and creative intelligence student at UTS. She likes historical fiction novels, green tea and patting dogs.
As the NSW drought tightens its grip, there are increasing concerns for the mental health of farmers and their families.
A recent Australian study indicated that farmers in NSW experience stress about the effects of drought on themselves, their families and their communities.
Drought- related stress among farmers: findings from the Australian Rural Mental Health Study found farmers who are younger 35 who experience financial hardship or are in isolation are more likely to experience drought-related stress.
Farmers are concerned for their friends and their family as the drought causes some to take their own lives.
Captain of the Salvation Army, Rhonda Clutterbuck, said: "They’re out there shooting their animals. A few have taken their own lives, sadly. And it’s distressing too.”
..the other week, they had to shoot the pet cow
“There’s just no end in sight for the drought and fodder is getting scarce, so not even knowing where they can get it from, prices are going up, the farmers can’t afford their animal feed," Capt Clutterbuck said.
“A lot them sadly, had to get rid of their breeders as well. So in getting rid of their breeders, they’re getting rid of the hope, because the breeders gave them hope that they could rebuild their farm,” she said.
“I can’t imagine the mental health, the impact that has on someone. We met a lovely family who when they moved here, they brought their pet cow, and the other week, they had to shoot the pet cow. These are the unseen things of the drought, that will have longer lasting affects.”
A community led campaign, R U Aware, We Care, is working to ease the pain of the drought.
The campaign began earlier this year and has raised $390,000 with $100,000 distributed among farmers in the New England Northwest Region.
The Bureau of Meteorology reports the rainfall in the New England area is ‘well below average’, just above ‘record low’.
The R U Aware We Care committee has held events including Farmer Friday in Tamworth, where locals dress up as a farmer for a gold coin donation once a week.
However, the main effort of the campaign has been forums held in different towns in the New England area to help farmers get access to support and to give voice to their concerns.
The forums also aimed to get the farmers together with companies to distribute food.
Tamworth Regional Council Heidi Williams Community Engagement Officer said: “When we had our forums…we didn’t pitch it as a come and get a bag of food. The Salvation Army was there and they were able to provide assistance to those who needed it right then and there.”
Support included mental health support, financial help, industry information and animal welfare.
Ms. Williams said: “[Animal welfare] was a popular topic for people, given the current circumstances. You know, making sure their animal was getting the right nutrition.”
“Because these types of events, they can be quite testing on relationships, families, particularly when there’s already stresses…cause cash flow is a little bit tight, or very tight for some people. It’s been able to help them with other things like shoes for kids, things like that," she said.
“A man from Newcastle had taken it upon himself to contribute, he said right, I’m going to do something about this, and he donated… he went around and was quite active in sourcing donations and then there was a convoy of cars with these trailers just full of groceries."
"I worry for them because obviously a lot of them just see it as their everyday. What effect will that have on them in ten years, you know? Some of them don’t label it as their mental health. Because they’re just getting in and doing what they need to. They’re making ends meet,” Capt Clutterbuck said.
“It wasn’t about the fundraising, but also about the mental health and awareness, times are tough and a lot of people who have been farmers for generations, there’s a sense of pride in that. And so it’s very important to actually ask for help, What we found through the whole campaign is that it’s people who are likely to be needing help themselves are likely to help others,” Ms Williams said.
The State Government has organised several initiatives to help farmers who are experiencing mental health issues including more funding for counselling, emergency drought relief counselling and the use of Rural Adversity Mental Health Coordinators.
The R U Aware We Care campaign is a joint effort of the Country Women’s Association, the 88.9FM radio station, the Salvation Army, the NSW Farmers Association, the Wests Entertainment Group, The Tamworth Regional Council and the Tamworth Business Chamber.
For crisis support phone Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information on mental health services in your community contact the NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511.