19 Dec 2017

Six suspected suicides of farmers 'tragic'

4:13 pm on 19 December 2017

A group representing young farmers says a spate of suicides over the past few weeks is tragic - but not surprising - after a really stressful year for the sector.

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(file photo) Photo: 123rf.com

New Zealand Young Farmers chief executive Terry Copeland said it's been a really tough time for the farming community and there have been six suspected suicides in recent weeks.

"My understanding is that there were four young men in Canterbury last week that had taken their own lives.

"But also I've heard two in the Waikato as well, and one of them in the Waikato was one of our young farmer members ... it's tragic," he said.

A mix of weather worries and pressure during the election was putting farmers under extra stress, he said.

"At this time of year, it's sort of a thing-upon-thing building up where one last trigger point, whatever that might be, is enough to think that there's no alternative.

It had been a tough winter and early spring with widespread rain and then very dry conditions, Mr Copeland said.

Terry Copeland.

Terry Copeland. Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

And many farmers were also feeling burnt out during what was a very busy period.

"A lot of our workers you'll find are pretty tired out, from calving, lambing etc, it's a pretty busy time and if any additional stresses happen with family or relationships or finances, often the combination is then enough.

"So it's not surprising to me that's there's this glut, it's sad and we don't want it to happen, but sadly, it's not surprising."

Mr Copeland said the sudden deaths were a big blow as the Young Farmers group has just finished a series of workshops across the country, educating people on how to recognise people at risk and support them.

Rural Support Trust chair Neil Bateup said the challenging weather conditions are putting extra strain on farmers at an already busy time of year.

"There is a lot of stress been driven by a wet autumn and winter which carried on until summer hit," Mr Bateup said.

"We didn't actually have a spring and now it's turned dry, so from a weather perspective there's been a lot of pressure on farmers."

Chart: Figure NZ

Research links blame with suicidal thoughts

New research shows some dairy farmers are feeling villainized by the public and the media, and that could be impacting their mental health.

A masters student from the University of Auckland, Anna Cooper, has been researching suicide among farmers for her thesis, which included visiting farming families affected by suicide in Waikato.

Ms Cooper said many of the farmers she spoke to were stressed, and felt they were being blamed for the environmental impacts of dairying.

"The farmers that I spoke to, they feel misrepresented by the media, they feel singled out by the media, they feel attacked and the genuinely feel blamed.

"And because the farm is so important to each farmer, in most cases it's so personal to them, an attack on their farm or their farm management practice, it's a personal attack and it's felt so personally by these people."

Bigger focus on prevention needed

Mr Copeland said he would like to see a bigger government focus on mental health and suicide prevention.

"I know the Mental Health Foundation, Farmstrong and a lot of organisations are working hard in that area, but a coordinated effort, government supported with some funding would be very helpful," he said.

He also agreed with Ms Cooper that some farmers do feel misunderstood.

"I think the whole of society can take some ownership and responsibility here, but to get some understanding and actually walk in the shoes of somebody else before you criticise would be very helpful."

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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