Farmstrong is an organisation which looks out for the well being of farmers, which in recent times has become an area which needs attention, with 14 farmers taking their own lives during the second half of last year. The organisation has released a TVC addressing the issue in a subtle way, using a farmer as the protagonist who has a nonchalant approach to well being, which illustrates how easy it can be to slip into bad habits.
We tend to think of farmers as having more of a carefree attitude than city dwellers. We don’t typically think of them as being overly emotive, more as the blokey, jolly type that would easily and quickly nip any kind of emotional issue in the bud. Perhaps this is why chief coroner Judge Neil MacLean told the Herald farmers were not over-represented as an occupation in suicide statistics. However MacLean said the impact of a farmer's suicide can be widespread. “If there’s a suicide in the city few people hear about it, but a suicide in a farming community, everyone knows and everyone knows what’s going on.”
Farmstrong is a new initiative between the Mental Health Foundation, rural insurer FMG and the charity Movember which launched on 3 June. It dubs itself as a “rural wellbeing programme designed to help farmers manage the ups and downs of farming. The main idea is that the most import asset on any farm is the farmer. Farmstrong’s goal is to support farmers to take action to improve their health and wellbeing. It provides farmers with practical strategies, tools and resources to live well, farm well and get the most out of life.”
It’s website says its research shows farmers are often great at looking after their stock and equipment, but many are not so good at looking after themselves.
After surveying a total of 400 farmers, 315 of which were FMG clients Farmstrong found farmers said the best methods of managing stress were: Time away from farming, talking to others planning, exercise and sleep, staff (employing a good group of people), financial management, which is what the TVC appears to be based on.
The TVC features a farmer saying he bumped into “Mike Gibson” who told him about a well being programme for farmers (alluding to the one offered by Farmstrong) but he dismisses the programme exhibiting a “she’ll be right” attitude, neglecting things essential to his wellbeing throughout the TVC, showing how easy it is to brush it off, neglecting mental and physical health. The TVC was created by BCG2 with FMG and the Mental Health Foundation.
A speculative reason for some farmers' struggling mental health is financial strain, with Fonterra cutting its milk pay out forecast for the coming season.
Radio New Zealand reported in April Fonterra’s latest cut to its dairy payout forecast meant up to $7 billion could be knocked out of the economy compared to last year’s payout. “With a forecast dividend of 20 to 30 cents a share on top of that, the new price will give the co-operative’s farmers a total cash payout for the season of no more than $4.80; last season farmers received a record payout of $8.50 per kilo of milksolids, which included a 10c per kilo dividend.”
Mental Health Foundation senior communications officer Sophia Graham says reasons for a taking a life can’t be simplified down to milk price drops and that it is a complex issue, with people taking their lives for a multitude of reasons.
She says the programme's approach is multi-pronged. “There is the website and that is the heart of the initiative and that has advice and tips for farmers to live well and farm well, taking time off, staying active, spending time with friends and family.”
She says as part of the initiative Farmstrong Healthy Thinking workshops will be run throughout the country by well-known author and motivational speaker Dr Tom Mulholland and through the initiative the organisation hopes to improve the lives of over 1000 farmers.
According to TV3 the effects of not addressing mental health issues can be deadly “with 22 farmers, including seven women, committing suicide in the year ended June 30, 2014, according to statistics from the chief coroner. Six of those were under 24, with 10 over 50. In all, there were 529 suicides in those two years nationwide. “
Farmstrong’s website says farming is a job with a unique set of challenges: “Many are hard to predict or control. They range from climate events like drought and flood to fluctuations in commodity prices, changing government legislation and new technology. Along with these external factors, come the demands of running any business – financial and production planning, managing cash flow, hiring and managing staff, succession planning etc.”