To mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in New Zealand, the dairy sector is calling for rural mental health to be a priority.
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DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and Dairy Women’s Network are concerned by the levels of mental health issues in rural communities, as illustrated in ‘The View from the Cowshed’ report released last month, and want to see action.

DairyNZ’s report highlighted that rural mental health is an ongoing issue, with 62 percent of dairy farmers stating they, or someone on their farm, has experienced mental health issues in the past 12 months.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle says sadly the statistics are not surprising, as mental health has been a recurring issue in rural communities for some time – but that needs to change.

“Farmers are operating in a challenging environment with a lot of variables – financial pressures, weather impacts and new regulations. These things have a huge impact on farmer wellbeing and confidence.

“This election we want to see funding for rural mental health made a priority and for politicians to consider the impacts their policies can have on farmer wellbeing.

“There are a range of sector-driven initiatives to support farmer wellbeing for themselves and their staff. But whoever forms the next Government needs to come to the party and help move the dial.”

Federated Farmers dairy industry group chairperson Wayne Langford agrees something needs to change to improve mental health outcomes for farmers – and it needs to change soon.

“Farmers have been under the pump this year operating in an environment with a lot of uncertainty and pressure, whether that be from drought, banks or changing regulations.

“It can be really challenging when you’re living remotely, the pressure comes on, and you can’t see a pathway forward.

“I’m a farmer myself and I’ve been there and felt these pressures – I still do at times. If you’re in that place the best thing you can do is take a step back and a deep breath and reach out for help.

“We might not be able to change things like the weather, but we can change the level of support on offer and the way we talk about mental health issues in rural communities.”

Dairy Women’s Network CEO Jules Benton agreed that improving mental health outcomes for farmers must be a priority and reinforced the value of having a support system in place for rural communities.

“It’s important that farmers are honest and encouraging with each other when we face challenges, and that we build up our communities together.

“Rural communities are great at supporting each other during difficult times and we are fortunate to have support programmes in place through organisations like Rural Support Trust and FarmStrong.

“It was devastating to see that 62 per cent of dairy farmers have had struggles with mental health issues in the last year. Seeing a number like that really drives home the importance of having this conversation.”

‘The View from the Cow Shed’ report focused on DairyNZ’s policy priorities for the 2020 election.

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