Joe has always lived on his family’s farm on the Yorke Peninsula. He remembers the day his father retired and he took hold of the reins. He and his wife, Jessica, were excited to build up the property.
They introduced lupins while continuing to grow wheat and sheep for the meat industry. When their kids, Pete and Sarah, were little they especially loved visits from their city cousins, showing them how the farm had changed. But Joe has found farming hasn’t always been easy.
‘Farming is like a snowball, it just keeps rolling and you can’t stop it,’ he said.
Joe has developed a strategy which has given him a chance to speak up about his mental health. ‘I have found people are confident to talk about things when you’re not looking at them,’ he said. ‘So you are shoeing a horse, you’ve got your head down and your bum up and you can talk about a lot of stuff.’
It really made an impression on Joe when he went to a community event and a farmer stood up and said, ‘I have a mental illness.’
‘I thought, ‘Oh shit don’t say that,’ but then I realised I can do the same thing, it helps other blokes,’ he said. ‘I can point out to my mate I am feeling sad and it’s depression. The chances are the mate’s going to say ‘I feel the same way’.’
Joe believes speaking about depression is normalising and validating. For Joe, being open about when his mental health feels rocky has helped him during the harder times. ‘You don’t have to be best mates or anything…but it helps to acknowledge publicly that we’ve had issues and this also helps others in the community,’ he said.
Joe has regained the pleasure of doing new things on the farm and wonders what ideas his kids will bring to developing the property. Recently, he has been connecting more with agricultural groups in the region, swapping stories about paddock selection and rotation for crops. With community connection, Joe feels the snowball has eased and farming has begun to feel rejuvenating.
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 final article in the five-month long project.