Crisis research published

Dr Stanley-Clarke says campaigns are not always what farmers want during crisis. Photo: Supplied
Dr Stanley-Clarke says campaigns are not always what farmers want during crisis. Photo: Supplied
Farmers want practical solutions and advice when crisis hits.

Farmers prefer to use established relationships with agricultural professionals and focus on problem solving in times of stress, according to recent research out of Massey University's College of Health.

The research, published in the latest Australian Journal of Rural Health, concluded that farmers do not want campaigns that tell them to look after themselves during difficult times.

Rather, they value practical help and advice which more often than not comes from agri-professionals such as vets and rural support workers.

Research author Nicky Stanley-Clarke from the Massey school of social work said there while there was a clear connection between financial stress and mental illness within farming communities, a focus on health promotion during times of stress could actually have an unintended, detrimental impact.

The research was based on interviews with farmers and rural professionals during the 2016 dairy crisis.

''At that time the media were constantly talking about farmers being stressed. The response was for government to put health promotion campaigns in place, alongside other supports.

''One of the interviewees at the time said he'd go to buy fertiliser and the rep would ask about their mental state.

''So they were constantly being reminded that they should be stressed and needing to look after themselves. But that really wasn't the practical solution farmers were after.''

Dr Stanley-Clarke believes agricultural professionals, such as animal veterinarians, farmer's organisations and rural support workers, play a vital role in supporting farmers through hard times.

''Professionals such as vets or reps often have a very close relationship with the farmer and the wider family. The state of the farm or animals themselves are often a barometer.''

Rural Women New Zealand national president Fiona Gower said she supported that view.

''Rural professionals and agencies such the Rural Support Trust played an incredibly valuable role in supporting farmers. I guess there are circumstances where reps and those close to the farmer may overstep, but rather that, I guess, than ignoring the signals altogether.''

Southland Co-ordinator of the Rural Support Trust (RST) Lindsay Wright said professionals played a vital role in terms of supporting and assisting the RST with its work.

''One of the key supports is for someone to be able to ask how they or their business can practically help, and that is of tangible benefit to the farmer and his or her state of mind.''

Dr Stanley-Clarke said agricultural professionals should be included as part of an integrated approach to addressing farmer stress.

''This would help ensure practical farming advice and support is provided, alongside strategies to support mental wellbeing.''

She said farmers identified agricultural professionals as key supports in hard times.

''They are better able to empathise with, plan for and strategise through stressful times supporting the farmer and resourcing them to better manage the future.''

-By Brent Melville

-If you think you or someone you know needs support, contact your local Rural Support Trust for help and advice on 0800787254. You can also check out, which promotes healthy thinking and resilience, or, a mental health literacy programme for workplaces.

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