Last month’s Australian Dairy Conference broke new ground with a confronting presentation on an industry issue.
It wasn’t about the dairy plan, or climate change, or the milk price, but something closer to home, and something much less talked about at industry workshops.
Three young people opened up about their experience with grief, mental illness and hardship.
Dairy farming can be an isolating and tiring business. The cold, dark, chilly mornings are invigorating and stimulating for a healthy person who enjoys the support of family and friends, but the same peaceful and quiet surroundings can be a challenge to those undergoing the stress of business pressures, family turmoil or in times of loss.
The National Centre for Farmer Health notes there is some evidence that the incidence of stress and depression is higher for farmers.
In Australia, male farmers die by suicide at rates significantly higher than the general population and non-farming rural males.
But farmers tend to be an independent lot, proud of our personal strength, and reluctant to ask for health.
In years gone by, seeking out help may have been stymied by a sense of weakness, the idea that mental health was something that other people wrestled with.
And so, we sometimes talked about (or didn’t talk about) depression and feelings of anxiety in hushed tones and with knowing looks.
Maybe because it was too close to home; something we knew about, only too well.
The first steps in facing up to the realities of mental health, start with an acknowledgement that it is a genuine illness and a realisation that it can happen to any of us, and that it can be treated.
It’s important to remember that depression and anxiety are common conditions, not weaknesses, and with the right treatment, most people recover.
The three stories told at the recent Dairy Conference in Melbourne, were greeted in hushed silence by the audience, but at the conclusion any doubt about the relevance was washed away by the strong applause offered by the 500 delegates.
Maybe there was a feeling that this was something at last being brought out into the open.
An opportunity now, to talk about the issues around the kitchen table; something to raise in farm staff meetings, and permission to say to our neighbour: “Are you okay?”
If this article has raised any issues for you, you can telephone Lifeline on 13 11 14.