Wednesday, 30 September 2020 13:23

Time for a change? — Editorial

Written by  Staff Reporters
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says the mental health statistics are sadly not surprising. DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says the mental health statistics are sadly not surprising.

OPINION: This year has been a difficult and challenging time not just for farmers, but for all New Zealanders.

For the farming industry, changing regulations, uncertainties about staffing and a difficult financial outlook top the list. Add to that changing weather patterns and high levels of debt: all these factors impact their mental health and wellbeing.

Last week, the country marked Mental Health Awareness Week. Dairy industry stakeholders called on politicians to make rural mental health a priority.

DairyNZ’s report, The view from the Cowshed, released last month paints a sad picture.

Sixty-two percent of farmers said that they or someone on their farm had experienced mental health issues over the last year. The biggest causes of mental health challenges cited by dairy farmers: 60% said regulation changes, 59% said financial concerns and 59% said the perception of dairying in the media and with the public.

When asked which issues were most likely to keep them awake at night, 42% of farmers said changing regulations, 19% of farmers said the farm’s finances.

DairyNZ chief executive 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.

He says 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.

Politicians can play a role. Firstly, they can make funding for rural mental health a priority. Secondly, politicians must consider the impacts their policies can have on farmer wellbeing. Poorly thought-out policies like the recent Southland winter grazing restrictions can cause immense grief and anxiety to farmers, most of whom are top custodians of the land.

The farming industry is often very isolated and farmers operate with a lot of issues outside their control. It is easy for things to get on top of them quickly, and if something goes wrong it can be pretty dire.

The last thing they need is poorly thought-out policies from Wellington.

The farming industry also has an unenviable record of deaths related to mental health issues, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Farmers do a good job of looking out for family, mates and neighbours. 

However, politicians must come to the party. Something needs to change to improve mental health outcomes for farmers and it needs to change soon, starting with a change in attitude from politicians.

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