The University of South Australia is ensuring that mental health and wellbeing remain a top priority in rural communities as a grassroots wellbeing and suicide prevention tool is launched today to support Australian farmers.
The free online multimedia site – Taking Stock – has been designed by and for Australian farmers, to help them tackle the everyday struggles of living on the land.
The outcome of a three-year nationally funded research project – 'Tailoring Suicide Prevention Strategies to Men in Farming' – Taking Stock helps farmers break down barriers for seeking help and provides information about community-based support services. Importantly, the website hosts resources tried by other rural groups that communities can download and use or adapt.
It also helps farmers recognize that the distress, mental ill health and/or suicide ideation they may have experienced is also experienced by other farmers, helping them understand that they are not alone.
This is the first time farmers have been asked about what they feel would help, and how they want to be supported.
In Australia, suicide rates among farmers are alarming high. The rate of suicide in famers is nearly 59 per cent higher than non-farmers, and was up to 94 per cent higher in 2018.
Project lead and Director of the National Enterprise for Rural Community Wellbeing, UniSA's Professor Lia Bryant, says the needs of rural communities are at the heart of the Taking Stock initiative.
Rural people have tremendous knowledge about the challenges and opportunities that they face in rural areas, so working with farmers and support groups was absolutely essential to create strategies that have meaning and are more likely to be used."
Lia Bryant, UniSA Professor
"In this project, we interviewed more than 50 farmers and three local suicide prevention groups – SOS Yorkes, Mellow in the Yellow, and Riverina Bluebell – to better understand the complexities of farmer distress and the local supports those farmers felt they needed.
"We found that on top of key stress factors that affect farmers in general – things like weather extremes, physical isolation, intergenerational issues, and financial pressures, to name a few – there were additional shared risk factors that farmers in the same region (or farming the same commodity) experienced.
"If we want suicide prevention strategies and early prevention to hit home then it was critical that we worked together to co-design a resource that directly addressed the key needs raised by farmers.
"Wellbeing is more than an individual experience. It is created by strong community connections and having local support. Rural communities understand reciprocity: the giving and receiving of support in good times and in difficult times.
"Taking Stock shares the stories and lived experiences of farmers and explains their journeys from different perspectives. And, because it's created by farmers and rural communities, for farmers and rural communities, the content is relevant and specific to their needs."
Taking Stock hosts multiple resources including films, interviews and podcasts of farmer experiences, how to set up a local suicide prevention group, and how to connect and engage with communities for early approaches to suicide prevention.
The new website aligns with World Health Organization recommendations to adopt a whole-of-community strategy for suicide prevention. Place-based suicide prevention strategies are also central to Australia's national response to suicide.
Riverina Bluebell President, Stephen Matthews, says Taking Stock can also help communities create local suicide prevention groups.
"Local knowledge and understanding are vital for supporting farmers, especially when it comes to mental health" Matthews says.
"Early interventions are critical, but they must be tailored to the specific factors that give rise to farmer distress, while also capturing the culture of farming and rural communities.
"By sharing how community-based support groups can make a difference to the lives of farmers doing it tough, and how communities can set up their own support groups, Taking Stock is covering all possible bases to improve mental health in rural and farming communities.
"We're very pleased to partner with UniSA to develop Taking Stock, and hope that the resource will not only provide immediate support for farmers in need, but also the resources to empower local communities to take positive action."