IN my experience, farmers like to make sense of stuff - for many, if they can’t see it or work it out it, it lacks validity.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking can sometimes give depression that same stigma.
There is a popular and logical explanation as to why farmers experience higher than average rates of depression and suicide, and that’s stress.
When variables like weather, markets and yields directly impact your income, and then you couple those factors with issues like isolation and family disputes, and sprinkle that all with traditional bush stoicism, it’s little wonder so many in agriculture feel like they’re carrying a lot on their shoulders.
Research suggests when the body and mind become stressed, adrenal glands are triggered to pump out Cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone. It provides a quick burst of energy for survival reasons - it lowers sensitivity to pain and assists in maintaining internal stability, lessening stimulation that disturbs the body’s normal condition or function.
The problem is, with continual stress and the consequent release of this hormone over time, we see depression and anxiety triggered. High Cortisol levels in your blood can also lead to other health problems including increased abdominal fat, suppressed thyroid function and high blood pressure, to name a few.
Alison Fairleigh, the 2013 RIRDC Queensland Rural Woman of the Year has been working to raise awareness about the importance rural mental health for six years including through her blog Talking Fairleigh.
Alison says exercise is one of the healthiest, proven ways to combat depression for many people.
“One of the challenges is that farmers think that the physical farm work they do constitutes as exercise, they think that in a way they’re fit. This isn’t the case,” Alison says.
Whether it’s going for a brisk half hour walk with the dogs, a TV workout at home or doing a class at the gym, after a few weeks there can be some big changes.
Alison also says that only a quarter of the people with diagnosable mental health problems in Australia seek assistance. She says that face to face discussions are preferred over telephone and online support, however, all are very beneficial at giving support and direction.
And whatever your thoughts on anti-depressants, they’re proven to be a great way to regain clarity and control to make some changes.
Some see them as essential to operate for the long-term, while others use them to get through the worst of it and then manage through healthy eating, exercise and or talking.
Farmers take whatever action they can when crops are stressed by disease or environment and if their sheep break their wool.
We’re a nation that’s taken to “low stress” stock handling with ease as the production and economical benefits we’ve seen in reducing stress on livestock continues to be proven.
So why the resistance in managing your own stress or those close to you?
Helping people with depression take action is much like that saying about leading a horse to water. Admitting there’s an issue is the biggest hurdle, with good progress to follow after having committed to the idea of seeking help.
Dr Who author Andrew Smith once said “People fear what they don't understand and hate what they can't conquer.”
This can be a double-edged sword for someone with depression - to be in a depressed state and then take the next step to seek help can sometimes be overwhelming. That’s why we all need to get over any perceived stigma about depression.
Perhaps share your story below.
Click here for some symptoms and signs of depression or see the links.
Here are some other helpful links:
Beyond Blue http://www.beyondblue.org.au/
For young people http://au.reachout.com/
Man Therapy http://www.mantherapy.org.au/
The Mens Line http://www.mensline.org.au/Home.html