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Website aims to improve farmers' mental health

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The world’s first online mental health program specifically targeted at farmers is being developed in South Australia.

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Farmers traditionally have among the highest rates of suicide across the globe.

The 2014 Regional Wellbeing Survey found that almost 50 per cent of Australian farmers had a mild or worse mental disorder, compared with 26 per cent of the general rural population.

The new program is being developed by researchers at the University of South Australia in collaboration with the University of Adelaide, National Centre for Farmer Health and the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men’s Health.

Lead researcher Kate Fennell said it was the first the online resource of its kind in the world to specifically target farmers and aimed to provide them with effective coping techniques and prevention methods.

She said it would not only help farmers who lived with a mental illness but could also be used as a prevention tool to address potential issues before they materialised.

“The main thing that it is going to focus on is helping farmers deal with things that are beyond their control because we know that farmers are already good problems solvers and are quite independent,” Dr Fennell said.

“Things like the weather, commodity prices and disease outbreak – are all things that aren’t easily fixed, can’t be controlled and our previous research has shown us they are what causes the most stress.

“We are hoping to provide them with the skills to cope better with the difficulties of their everyday lives and essentially prevent the development of mental health issues.”

Dr Fennell said the program would include information on how to ask for and get help – something farmers sometimes found difficult.

“Some farmers have told us that they are worried about their mental health but don’t speak to their GP about it because they don’t know how to have that conversation,” she said.

“One of the things we are working on is a script for the website that they can read through as an example or a video of someone else having that conversation so that they realise that it’s actually not that hard and is something that has been done before.”

The farmers’ mental health site will be used primarily as an information hub but will also include a discussion board where users can interact with other people and share their frustrations in a professionally moderated environment.

It will send personal reminders or messages of encouragement to users whose participation declines over the course of the program.

“We want to work within Australia at the moment to make sure it’s culturally appropriate and targets their needs specifically. Farmers in other countries might have different needs,” Dr Fennell said.

“Once we make sure the program is effective here, we have had initial discussions about rolling it out in other parts of the world as well.”

Dr Fennell, who grew up on a farm near Streaky Bay, is looking for 80 farmers from around Australia to assist them in developing and evaluating the website.

Interested parties can visit this link for more information.

Dr Fennell said she hoped the site would be launched in the next 12 months.

If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the website.

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