Joe, 55, grew up on a farm which has been in the family for generations. He is married to Jess, 50, and together they have two children – Pete, 18, and Sarah, 14. Joe is a sheep farmer and also grows wheat, barley and lupins. Although Joe loves farming and couldn’t imagine himself doing anything else, he wants a different life for his son who is keen to follow in his footsteps. The droughts, the financial pressures, the uncertainty – he wants better for Pete: ‘what you’ve worked for, for your whole life, [can be] taken from you like that.’
Joe lives in a tight-knit community where people are always willing to lend a hand, but he doesn’t want to bother anyone with his troubles because everyone’s got them: ‘you try not to say too much.’ Jess has noticed a change in Joe; he often leaves the bed at night because he can’t sleep. He’s not hungry much these days either: ‘he needs to go and see a psychiatrist or a GP. Otherwise ultimately, he’ll end up in a mental health incident that will force his hand.’ Joe’s not sure what can help, if anything. He knows that he is struggling but he’s not sure that counselling will help. ‘What can talking do about a drought?’ Besides, who’s got the time: ‘out of all this angst a lot of my own problems have had to be put aside for financial survival…especially now with the drought on, there’s just no time…’ Joe has a group of friends that he regularly gets together with for mutual support. ‘We just can talk about whatever and no one – nothing leaves the room.’ It wasn’t until he heard others share their experiences that he realised he had been struggling for so long: ‘for some stubborn reasons…I didn’t even consider I had depression…it was only a chance discussion…all of a sudden the penny dropped and hit me and [I] thought ‘that’s me’.’ Joe acted quickly: ‘[I] made a phone call to a GP that afternoon, went and saw him the next day and when I walked out of there it was like half the weight had been lifted off my shoulders.’
SOS Yorkes and the National Enterprise for Rural Community Wellbeing have been working together to help local farmers. The organisations have co-designed a series of stories addressing some of the issues, taken from over 50 interviews with farmers from across South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.
Recurring themes include recognising distress and anxiety; economic, weather and other downturns and distress; marital stress and needing to talk to someone; help seeking and the road to recovery.
This is the fourth article in the five-month long project.