B+LNZ encourages awareness of rural mental health issues

Mental Health Awareness Week gives rural communities an opportunity to talk about an issue that is of particular concern to farmers and those living and working in the rural sector
Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Chairman Andrew Morrison says tragically, farmers are over-represented in this country’s suicide statistics and Mental Health Awareness Week is a good opportunity to discuss mental health, management strategies and the many support mechanisms available to those living in rural areas.

He says recent UMR survey results show that farmer confidence in the sheep and beef industry has fallen to a three-year low.

“Concern over the scale and pace of new government regulations appears to be the main driver of the fall in confidence. The new essential freshwater rules, the Zero Carbon Bill and other climate change policies that have driven an increase in the conversion of sheep and beef farms into carbon farms are all having an impact. Farmers are also worried about what may come out of the biodiversity process next year.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about the cumulative impact these regulations will have on farming businesses and we know this is weighing on farmers. We’re all vulnerable under pressure – just look at how high-profile figures like Todd Muller and Dr Ashley Bloomfield have recently talked about their mental health challenges – and there’s a lot of pressure at the moment.

“What gets a lot of farmers out of bed each morning is pride in their industry, and pride in providing quality, nutritious food for people around the world. They want to be doing the right thing and many farmers have invested huge amounts of time and energy over the last few years to improve their environmental impact. It’s hard when the expectations keep changing.”

Andrew says that B+LNZ, along with other industry-good bodies, is advocating hard on farmers’ behalf on these policy issues and how new rules are implemented. “We have farmers’ backs. This isn’t a flippant statement – we won’t leave farmers hanging without support. We are, for example, trying to get changes to parts of the recently released Essential Freshwater rules to make them as practical as we possibly can, and then we will help farmers through the next stages, like we did in the health and safety space.”

While there are positives out there – despite COVID-19 making international markets volatile, global demand for naturally grown grass-fed beef and lamb is growing and the outlook for the sector remains strong – many farmers are doing it tough and Andrew encourages all farmers to think about their mental health this week, particularly during the busy spring period.

If you need to talk, there are people who want to help and are willing to listen – whether it’s giving your mates a call or reaching out to some of the farmer-focused initiates listed below.

Nationally, the Rural Support Trust does a fantastic job by supporting farmers and getting them the help they need to deal with issues. “This is typically farmers helping farmers so there is a shared appreciation and understanding of the specific challenges facing farmers.”

Farmstrong is also a nationwide wellbeing programme, designed to give farmers the skills and resources to live well and farm well.

Surfing for Farmers, which is operating at a number of beaches this summer, gives farmers the opportunity to get off-farm, try a new skill, meet new people and enjoy the mental health benefits of sea water. The programme provides surfing lessons, gear hire and bbq at no cost to farmers, their staff and families.

Remember – you’re not alone and there is always someone out there to talk to and to help.

For more information about mental health go to: