Current and completed research

Current Research:

Primary Producers Knowledge Network | 2020-2022

Victoria’s primary producers (including farmers and fishers) are a vulnerable workforce in industries undergoing significant transition, and experience a wide-range of workplace-related mental health challenges. Vulnerability stems from an ageing and reducing workforce, rapidly increasing technological demands, exposure to a global marketplace and increasing uncertainty – with links to psychological distress and suicide risk.

This project will work with farmers, fishers and industry partners to co-design, develop and evaluate a website, social media platforms and capacity building activities to foster sustainable change across primary industries. Content will have a primary prevention focus and be tailored to reflect the needs of a range of industry groups (e.g. fishing, dairy farming, cropping, livestock farming, etc.) and a range of age cohorts. The project will adopt a holistic primary prevention approach to address workplace-related factors impacting primary producers’ health, wellbeing and safety.

The Primary Producer Knowledge Network is a partnership with Western District Health Service, Deakin University, Griffith University, University of SA and Cath Cosgrove Consulting and is funded by WorkSafe’s WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.

For further information about this project contact:

Dr Alison Kennedy
(03) 5551 8533

Mental health at the COVID-19 frontline: An assessment of distress, anxiety and coping from staff and attendees at screening clinic’s | 2020-2021

Across Western Victoria, the COVID-19 response has included drive-through screening and respiratory assessment clinics (RAC).  People seeking COVID-19 screening are met with healthcare workers fully donned in gowns, gloves and masks which may threaten people already experiencing distress, as well as hampering communication to the general population.

This research study ‘Mental health at the COVID-19 frontline’ will assess psychological distress, anxiety and coping strategies from two regional screening sites:

  1. A drive-through screening clinic based at Western District Health Service, Hamilton and 
  2. A Respiratory Assessment Clinic with prior phone screening at South West Healthcare. 

Attendees and healthcare workers at both sites will be requested to complete a structured, validated and anonymous online questionnaire to assess distress, anxiety and coping strategies. The experience of frontline healthcare workers will be further explored through focus group discussions.

This project is led by Western District Health Service and funded through Western Alliance and supported by partners Southwest Healthcare, Federation University, Deakin University.

For further information about this project contact:

Dr Susan Brumby
(03) 5551 8533

MH4Ag: Co-designing a peer-supported approach to improve mental health in rural farming communities

Compared to the general Australian population, rural farming communities face higher risk of suicide. While farmers are generous at providing help to others, they are often reluctant to ask for help themselves. Living in rural areas, access to mental health support is limited and where support is available, providers may have poor understanding of the realities of life and work in the farming environment. This project aims to develop a framework — working with farming community members and rural stakeholders — for the delivery of peer-supported, evidenced-based psychological therapy to farming community members experiencing depression or psychological/situational distress. To complement this, the project will also work with farmers and community stakeholders to develop a personal challenge  ’action plan’ template for members of the farming community. Working with farmers to develop a personalised, practical ’action plan’ aims to help improve farmers’ and farming community members’ ability to focus on what TO DO in a challenging situation, rather than what NOT TO DO.

The project is led by the National Centre for Farmer Health in partnership with Western District Health Service and with the involvement of researchers from the University of South Australia, La Trobe University and University of Melbourne.

This project is funded by the Western Victoria Primary Health Network.

For further information about this project contact:

Dr Alison Kennedy
(03) 5551 8533

RAHDaR on Climate: Emergency presentations across rural South-West Victoria

As the climate is changing, the number of hot days increasing and heat is becoming more intense, it is important to gain an understanding around heat-related illnesses. Heat kills more Australians than any other natural disaster.

Limited research has been conducted on the effects of high heat days and heatwaves in Australia on individuals’ health, particularly in rural and agricultural communities. These communities are particularly vulnerable as they typically work long-hours outdoors. Heat related illness is preventable and so it is vital to gain a deeper understanding of its trends.

This research will use the Rural Acute Hospital Data Register (RAHDaR) to determine and understand the prevalence and characteristics of heat-related illness in rural south-west Victoria between February 2017 and January 2020. The outcomes of this research project will assist in developing a profile of heat-related illness in the rural and agricultural populations and understand the associated risk factors. Results will inform the development of initiatives to prevent and manage heat-related illness.

For further information about this project contact:

Dr Susan Brumby
(03) 5551 8533

Filtering the Facts – Kidney function in rural communities

This research project investigates Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in rural communities in Victoria. A number of ‘CKD hot spots’ have been identified, including the Grampians region where the prevalence is significantly higher (13.5%) compared to Victoria as a whole (10%). Global reports have identified a growing trend in CKD with non-traditional risk factors (CKDu) in male farm workers aged 30-50 years from agricultural communities. As kidney disease is typically silent, this research aims to determine the prevalence of kidney disease in rural south west Victoria and identify the presence of traditional and novel risk factors. Individuals’ with at least one traditional risk factor for CKD were identified and invited to participate in kidney clinics, consisting of; a lifestyle questionnaire, health assessment and a blood and urine sample for analysis. Individual participants were educated about kidney disease and made aware of their risk factors for CKD to enhance their health literacy. In 2020 a Deakin honours student Claire McKay is also looking at this.

For further information about this project contact:

Jessie Adams
(03) 5551 8533

Injury risk and safety behaviours of children in rural Victoria | 2020-2022

Farms are complex environments as the distinction between the workplace and home is often blurred, resulting in children being exposed to various industry hazards. As injury is preventable, it is alarming that the rate of unintentional farm-related child fatalities and key agents causing them has remained constant overtime. Therefore, it is vital to understand the contexts in which children are participating and engaging with the farm. By exploring the safety measures, risk-taking behaviours and common activities of children on farms, this research will gain a fresh and novel insight into the culture and perceptions around children on farms. Understanding common hazardous exposures will assist in the development of targeted interventions to improve child farm safety.

For further information about this project contact:

Jessie Adams
(03) 5551 8533

Completed Research

From Inside the Farm Gate: Rural women’s stories of thriving and surviving | 2018-2019

‘From Inside the Farm Gate’ provides an opportunity for women from rural farming communities to voice their experiences of tough times and for others to learn from these stories. The project was  conducted in two phases:

  • Phase 1: Victorian farming women from rural communities experiencing tough times participating in a digital storytelling workshop to share personal stories of managing personal challenges—including socio-economic hardship and challenges to physical, social and emotional wellbeing.
  • Phase 2: The digital stories from Phase 1 were publically exhibited to a range of audiences (including rural women’s events, via social media and on the farmer health website)—giving voice to Victorian women, promoting communication and encouraging mutual reflection, empathy and understanding.

For further information about this project contact:

Dr Alison Kennedy
(03) 5551 8533

Financing Fortitude: evaluating scholarship in strengthening Victorian rural woman and agriculture | 2017-2019

This research project investigates a group of Victorian women who attended the 2nd International Conference on Women in Agriculture in Washington DC, 1998. Following the rural women’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s, the Conference was designed to recognise the contribution of women, globally, to agriculture, education programs in rural areas and commitment to furthering the status of rural women. Acknowledging a selection of Victorian women for their ongoing contributions to agriculture and rural women’s issues, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment awarded 20 travel bursaries and organised a pre-Conference Agricultural Tour through agricultural California. Limited follow-up evaluation has explored whether the intended objectives and outcomes of the Conference and travel bursaries were realised. This research measures Conference attendees’ association between different elements of the experience and their career choices in the last two decades. Findings will improve understanding of the opportunity for growth and progress when investing in Victorian agricultural women.

For further information about this project contact:

Dr Susan Brumby
(03) 5551 8533

In-field Personalised Cholinesterase Assessment Project (In-field PCAP)

A 12 month study funded by the Shepherd Foundation  grant to conduct much needed research to form the basis of a database of cholinesterase activity (an enzyme inhibited by organophosphate pesticides) from farmers exposed to agricultural pesticides in their workplace.  Organophosphates have been associated with chronic neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s in sheep farmers in particular. The critical window for exposure to toxicants may occur years before the onset of neurological symptoms. This research also aims to assess and improve the integration of cholinesterase monitoring into routine agricultural health clinics and in the field, whilst providing farming people with a link between their individual cholinesterase activity and their household and agrichemical use.

Partners: Birchip Cropping Group, Flinders University, Shepherd Foundation.

For further information about this project contact:

Dr Jacquie Cotton
(03) 5551 8533

The Ripple Effect (STRIDE Project)

The Ripple Effect is an online intervention designed to investigate what works to reduce the self-stigma (negative attitudes you have towards yourself) and perceived-stigma (negative attitudes you believe others have about you) among males from the farming community, aged 30-64 years, who have been bereaved by suicide, attempted suicide, cared for someone who attempted suicide, have had thoughts of suicide, or been touched by suicide in some other way. The intervention provided:

1. Opportunity for anonymously sharing experiences in a peer-supported environment.
2. Opportunity to increase knowledge and literacy about the lived experience of suicide (challenging suicide myths and framing experience in a contextual way, facilitating help-seeking where required).
3. Encouragement for a positive cycle by which the disruption of the negative feedback of self-stigma and perceived-stigma will also reduce stigma in others.

Partners: The Ripple Effect is funded by beyondblue with donations from the Movember Foundation. National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH), Deakin University, Victorian Farmers’ Federation, AgChatOZ, Sandpit, Western District Health Service and Mental Illness Fellowship North Queensland.

For further information about this project contact:

Dr Alison Kennedy
(03) 5551 8533

Fitter Farmers

Fitter Farmers is a research study funded through Deakin University which aims to paint a detailed picture of the amount and type of physical activity our agricultural and regional communities are involved in day-to-day, which will help us to develop better health promotion and disease prevention programs for our agricultural communities. Exercise is increasingly recognised as being protective against chronic disease, and beneficial to mental health. However, little is known about physical activity levels of farmers, or how they compare to other workforces.  This means that the development of effective physical activity programs or recommendations to improve farmer health and prevent disease is challenging.  The Fitter Farmers study will compare physical activity levels in farm-based agriculture, regional healthcare and urban workers. Identification of activity patterns in these workforce groups will provide a strong foundation for development of physical activity and exercise-based programs to enrich life-style, prevent disease, and improve mental health outcomes for Australian farmers.

Shhh hearing in a farming environment | 2012-2016

Two out of three farmers are affected by hearing loss. Farmers as a group are particularly at risk as their workplace is also their home. They are also exposed to many different and unique sources of noise on farms. This project tests the hypothesis that participating in early intervention hearing services focussed towards farming families will contribute to (a) significant reduction in the impact of hearing loss on farmers and (b) educate and empower farmers on their capacity to reduce their noise exposure.

Partners: Deakin University, Australian National University National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health,  National Centre for Farmer Health, National Acoustic Laboratories

This project was funded by the National Health and Medicine Research Council (NHRMRC) Project Grant GNT 1033151. Research partners include the National Centre for Farmer Health, Deakin University, University of Canberra and the National Acoustic Laboratories.

For further information about this project contact:

Dr Susan Brumby
(03) 5551 8533

Cholinesterase Research Outreach Project (CROP) – Measuring organophosphate exposure in western Victorian farmers | 2013

A 6 month Deakin University research grant to conduct a much needed study that will form the basis of a database of cholinesterase activity (an enzyme inhibited by organophosphate pesticides) from farmers exposed to agricultural pesticides in their workplace.  Organophosphates have been associated with chronic neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s in sheep farmers in particular. The critical window for exposure to toxicants may occur years before the onset of neurological symptoms. This study also aims to assess and improve the integration of cholinesterase monitoring into routine agricultural health clinics, whilst providing farming and non-farming people with a link between their cholinesterase activity and their household and agrichemical use.

For further information about this project contact:

Dr Jacquie Cotton
(03) 5551 8533

Farming fit? Depression and obesity in farm men and women

A two year research grant to study mental health status and obesity in farm men and women. This is a Western District Health Service and Deakin Medical School collaborative study, funded by a beyondblue research grant. This project is due for completion in June 2011.

Sustainable Farm Families™ Future Directions | 2009-2011

This project provided ongoing evidence-based information to support and inform future health, wellbeing and safety directions for Australia’s agricultural industries. The project focused on extending our understanding of the initial SFF program, implemented in the broad acre, cotton and sugar industries (2003-2006), in a longitudinal study. This project is in partnership with La Trobe University, Centre for Sustainable Regional Communities, Farm 500 Bendigo and funded by the Collaborative Partnership for Farming and Fishing Health and Safety managed by Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. An independent external evaluation was undertaken by Roberts Evaluation of the Future Directions program and can be found below. The final report was submitted with RIRDC at the end of April 2011.

Sustainable Farm Families™: Future Directions (March 2013)

The health and wellbeing of all Australians is pivotal for economic and social success of the nation. Current data reveals that the health status of people living in rural and remote populations is poorer than their metropolitan counterparts. However there is a lack of understanding of the specific health statistics of rural farming populations. The Sustainable Farm Families (SFF) Future Directions program aims to fill this gap by providing ongoing evidence-based information and support to Australia’s agricultural industries, to gain insight into the health, wellbeing and safety of Australia’s rural farming populations.

Sustainable Farm Families Program

Victorian Auditor General’s Report September 2010 2010-11:7In 2010 the Victorian Auditor General undertook an audit of the Sustainable Farm Families™ program as funded through the Victorian Department of Primary Industries drought recovery program. (2007) The audit examined whether the SFF program has been effective in improving the health and wellbeing of farming families in Victoria. It reviewed:

  • The program’s rationale and planning;
  • Its implementation; and
  • Evidence of its effectiveness.

Conclusions from the report were that participants report that they have learned from the program and have changed their behaviour as a result. This is borne out by clinical indicators that show their health is improving. Together these indicate the SFF program is effective in improving participants’ health.

Sustainable Dairy Farm Families™ – Future Directions | 2010-2012

This project will provide ongoing evidence-based information to support and inform future health, wellbeing and safety directions for Victoria’s dairy industries. The project focuses on extending our understanding of the initial SFF dairy program, implemented in 11 dairy communities across Victoria during 2005 – 2007. We will be revisiting the same communities and undertaking a longitudinal health, wellbeing and safety study during 2011.   Importantly we will also be providing health assessment, information and education and referral.

This project was in partnership with La Trobe University, Centre for Sustainable Regional Communities, Bendigo, United Dairy farmers Victoria and funded by the Gardiner Foundation and Colac Community Enterprise. 

  • Alcohol and farming communities
    Development, implementation and evaluation of a program to reduce alcohol and related problems among farm men and women, by increasing the skills and knowledge of rural health professionals who work with farm men and women. This project is a partnership between Western District Health Service and Deakin University, School of Psychology and funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant. 
  • Evaluation of an alcohol intervention training program for nurses in rural Australia 
    Brumby, Susan, Kennedy, Alison J., Mellor, David, McCabe, Marita P., Ricciardelli, Lina A, Head, Alexandra and Mercer-Grant, Cate (2011) The Alcohol Intervention Training Program (AITP): A response to alcohol misuse in the farming community, BMC Public Health, vol. 11, no. 242
  • Chest pain and farmers
    A project looking at farmers understanding of what to do when they have a pain in the chest. Survey research is been carried out among farm men and women. This is a collaborative project between the National Centre for Farmer Health and the Centre for Rural Emergency Medicine.
    Farmers with acute chest pain are uncertain how and when to seek help: A pilot study