Agricultural Retailers Are Being Trained To Help Farmers Struggling With Mental Health

Lifeline launch Dairy Crisis Appeal as calls increase.

27/05/2016 1:50 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
As dairy farmers deal with slashes to milk prices, calls to Lifeline increase.

Mental health service Lifeline is training front line retailers in the farming industry to help tackle suicide prevention, as calls from farmers crippled by the slashing of milk prices increase.

The suicide prevention service launched the Dairy Crisis Appeal on Friday, urging Australians to donate money to help the service train rural communities in effectively dealing with suicidal thoughts and depression.

Lifeline CEO Peter Shmigel told The Huffington Post Australia the outreach program will help agricultural retailers identify farmers struggling with mental health.

"We've had reports of farmers walking into agricultural retailers and talking about their mental health while they're buying," Shmigel told HuffPost Australia.

"So we're teaching those retailers how to deal with those conversations and when to ask questions.

"A lot of people don't know how to ask whether someone is having suicidal thoughts. People feel like it's not okay to ask the question."

Shmigel said men in the farming industry have always been more at risk, with suicide rates in country areas twice as high as urban precincts, and middle aged men having the highest rate of suicide in any age group.

But it's not just farmers who are at risk.

Before the dairy crisis hit, research conducted by Lifeline revealed Aussies involved in the farming industry such as truck operators and labourers in the field had higher rates of suicide than farmers. As drought-stricken areas lead to farms cutting these services first, said Shmigel.

From 2009 to 2014, there were a 70 deaths from suicide in south-west Victoria with many of those men working in casual or contract work in the farming industry. And 40 percent of those Australians who died had contact with health and social services.

This data has led to Lifeline developing a Suicide Prevention Collaborative Network in Victoria's Warrnambool region to connect health services. The need for this network has increased since the dairy crisis.

Since processors Fonterra and Murray-Goulburn slashed milk prices in April the Federal Government has launched a $579 million support package, with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce pledging $555 million in concessional loans and $20 million for an irrigation infrastructure upgrade in Victoria's Gippsland. You can read all about the package announcement, made on Wednesday, here.

We've had reports of farmers walking into agricultural retailers and talking about their mental health while they're buying.

On Monday Lifeline developed a new screening system to monitor the number of Australians calling specifically from the fallout of the dairy crisis. The volunteer service has also trained the 4000 volunteers answering calls to provide the appropriate support for those affected by the crisis.

But the outreach program targeting retailers on the ground and extending the training to frontline services in the farming industry will help many farming communities help themselves.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact BeyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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