Joe, 55, has lived on the farm all his life. He followed in the footsteps of four generations of his family who have called the farm home. Through good times and bad, the family have survived it all. Joe is married to Jessica and their two children, Pete, 18, and Sarah, 14, are rapidly growing up. Pete is studying agriculture at university in Adelaide and is thinking of following in his father’s footsteps. This is not surprising, as farming has been Pete’s father’s life and he wants to be just like him. But Joe is worried. Pete has seen some of the struggles the farm has gone through, but Joe has never really told him the toll it takes. ‘The stress has always been there…when you are wondering where the next dollar is coming from and you’re the only one that can solve the problem, the stress can build up very quickly.’ Joe muses, ‘will there actually be a farm for Pete to come to?’
Joe has reflected on some of the major challenges that he has faced on the farm that have, at times, taken him to some dark places. Joe has struggled at times to balance work with the pressures that he feels from his parents, siblings and even Jess, especially when the situation on the farm has been hard-pressed. External challenges like weather disasters have wrought havoc on the farm, including drought, floods and frost. Joe remembers when he and Jess were about to get married: ‘It was meant to be one of the best times of your life and we got absolutely rolled by the frost. We lost everything overnight.’
Joe carries the weight of his brother’s experience as well, who left his farm with $250,000 in debt at a time when the market had collapsed amid rising interest rates. Joe said he would wake up in the morning and ‘only see the negatives. You’re thinking the worst and its terrible.’ Joe commented, ‘we hear farmers talk. It’s that sense of failure and the threat that they might not be able to continue farming and that it could be the end of the line for a particular property. That’s the kind of thing that can push them to want to, yeah, end their lives.’ Joe has often wondered, ‘how the hell are we going to get through this?’ Despite challenges, Joe has survived the ups and downs that farming has brought him. A change occurred when he realised that he needed to seek help. It began when Joe heard one of his farming friends casually share about their own mental health issues at a recent field day. Joe, who had started to struggle with self-medication and alcohol abuse, knew he needed to do something for himself and his family. Joe made an appointment with a rural outreach counsellor that his friend had gone to. Talking with someone was the beginning of Joe’s moving forward. He learnt there ‘was a very, very close, important link between financial well-being and depression, there’s a link and I know that [now].’ Most importantly, Joe thought of his son Pete and his hopes and dreams for the farm; he had new lessons to share with him on his own farming journey.
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 second article in the five-month long project.