Many people will know that I have a link to the farming community through my husband’s business, Cairnmuir Station, a merino property located in Bannockburn. Around this area the farming community has become more disjointed than days of old, due to land being developed for horticulture and viticulture. The farming community is not what it once was.
So it was with particular interest that I attended a training initiative known as “GoodYarn” – where we were essentially learning to recognise the signs of mental decline in rural folk. The programme was developed in Southland initially by WellSouth, and rolled out over the whole country, culminating in several awards in 2016 for its innovative and successful workshops.
The farming community feels stressors that townies don’t… weather doesn’t do what it needs to do, never-ending farm-work to be done, seasonal employment, unfair or unequal returns for investment and effort, feeling the weight of responsibility for animals, and a lack of control over income, to mention a few.
The scary fact is that 3 farmers will commit suicide every fortnight. Rural men tend to bottle up their problems, or feel that they can’t talk about it to their neighbours – that the problem is too big to share. It is easy to internalise their problems by believing no-one else knows what it’s like to have those difficulties. But chances are there are others around in the same boat. Even if the farmer eventually caves to pressure from his wife and makes a GP appointment, chances are the hay will need to be cut that day, and the opportunity to address stress levels with a health professional is pushed to the bottom of the priority queue.
Other resources that are available include the Rural Support Trust whose role is to provide support during times of financial or personal difficulties - 0800 RURAL HELP.
Pharmacy staff are well-placed to recognise a significant decline in mood in a prescription customer because the monthly dispensing pattern allows for regular pick-ups, and proactive interaction. The workshop taught us to ask open-ended questions to elicit a genuine answer rather than a general “fine, fine, I’m fine, everything’s fine”. This is also the approach adopted by organisations such as Farmlands and Rural Banks, whose rural representatives travel around the regions in their business role helping rural clients.
Mental wellness is a Good Yarn worth spreading – and the more it gets talked about, out in the open, the better.