Monday, 14 May 2018 12:27

Farmers are suffering

Written by  Peter Burke
Joyce Brown - Farmer Wellness Ambassador at StayWell. Joyce Brown - Farmer Wellness Ambassador at StayWell.

Farmers and farm staff are overworked and some are facing chronic exhaustion.

That’s the view of Joyce Brown who runs StayWell – volunteer nurses who attend farm events to offer health checks to farmers.

Brown says this problem stems partly from the average age of a dairy farmer being about 58 and a drystock farm about 68. 

But it’s not only older people who are affected, she says. 

“Different challenges face different age groups. When you are older your health is failing, you feel more vulnerable and so you are more mentally vulnerable,” she told Rural News. 

“But there are young people in quite senior roles at times on larger properties – not necessarily in ownership roles – who carry huge responsibility. 

“I feel very sad when I see people aged 40 burnt out; and I see the effects on them personally, their relationships and their children.”

Brown and her 50 helpers -- all farmers’ wives and nurses -- attend about farmer 40 events each year. She was born in Auckland, married a Waikato dairy farmer and has worked on the property all her married life. 

They recently attended the Ag Innovation conference run by Beef + Lamb NZ in Palmerston North. At such events Brown and colleagues offer free blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose tests.

“We then start talking to them about other health issues they are dealing with and we have a questionnaire that goes with it. This raises some physical things they need to care about, like skin care risk, general medical history and stuff like wearing a helmet and ear muffs and protective gear on the farm.

“Then we turn the page and talk about their mental health and what they are doing to keep themselves mentally healthy.” 

Mental health is a major issue in the rural sector but until recently not widely talked about. 

Brown is one many people addressing the problem. She says most communities have suffered the distress and grief of knowing people who have taken their own lives.

“As part of our health checks we talk about mental wellness and we find people with huge issues they have never taken anywhere else. We have pointed them to where they can get help, especially the depression website which features John Kirwan, and get that followed up by a visit to professional. 

“But I believe in the rural world we need to be as knowledgeable as possible and support ourselves as much as we can because services are failing in the rural communities.”

Brown says in rural areas it is often hard to get an appointment with a doctor and she’s heard of people being on the internet at 1.30am trying to find out what’s wrong with them.  People are distressed, not sleeping and fear not getting an appointment with a psychologist so they resort to going online.

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