When it comes to dairy farmer stress, Ash Horsburgh has been there, done that.
Having worked in the industry since he was 15, Ash has suffered depression that he partly attributes to the pressure that comes with running a dairy business.
Now, as Latrobe Regional Hospital’s Community Development Co-ordinator of Dairy Farmer Mental Health, he is trying to link dairy farmers with the mental health services that are available throughout Gippsland.
“It’s talking about their stress and finding an avenue where they feel comfortable to access services,” Mr Horsburgh said.
“My job is to help people who are struggling, by trying to educate them about the pathways to care and what services are out there.”
Mr Horsburgh’s history in the industry — he was an employee, sharefarmer, farm owner and is still involved with the family’s 420 cow dairy farm at Nyora — means he can understand the pressures that farmers are under.
The isolation that comes with running a dairy farm, as well as the constant strain of milk price worries and climatic conditions means dairy farmers are often well down the path of stress related illness before they seek help.
He sees his role as helping to identify when farmers are not coping and helping to find them a suitable avenue for assistance.
“Getting farmers to put their hand up and talk to someone is critical,” he said.
“Just going to the footy club and having a chat to someone about how things are going can be a start.
“I know they can be frightened about opening up and the stigma around mental health, but it’s very, very common and you will find the majority of farmers you talk to have a high level of stress at the moment.”
Mr Horsburgh said his own experience with depression had given him an insight into the dark places that mental illness can take people and strategies that can be used to find a way back to the light.
“I had my own personal battle with depression when I was milking cows, which helps me understand the problems that farmers are having and also how they can find a path through their stress by starting to talk about it,” he said.
“Sometimes when under stress you dwell on negative aspects and forget the positive things about yourself, positive things in the past, positive things you are doing at the moment and positive things you can do in the future.
“You come out the other end and you come out quite well. You learn coping strategies, so the next time you go down a pathway of isolation or not talking about things, you can identify it and do something about it.”
Mr Horsburgh said now would be a good time for farmers to have a yearly health check-up with their GP, but when making an appointment, inform the receptionist that you wish to have a double appointment to talk about your stress.
A double appointment gives the GP enough time to do a Mental Health Plan that allows a rebate under Medicare to access psychology and counselling.
Mr Horsburgh can be contacted on 0436 188 656 or by email at Ahorsburgh@lrh.com.au