It’s well known that farmers and fishers face a range of work-related challenges that put them at risk of poor mental health and suicide. While there has been a concerted effort to improve support for those experiencing poor mental health, a movement to prevent mental health risks—and therefore avoid a mental health crisis—has been gathering momentum at the National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH).
NCFH Senior Research Fellow Dr Alison Kennedy stressed the importance of preventing risks to mental health for all primary producers: “Victoria’s primary producers (including farmers and fishers) are a vulnerable workforce. Many industries are undergoing significant transition—resulting in a wide range of work-related challenges that pose potential risk to individuals’ mental wellbeing. These challenges include an ageing and reducing workforce, rapidly increasing technological demands, exposure to a global marketplace, extreme environmental conditions and increasing uncertainty.”
These well-identified risks have triggered an important new project at the NCFH. The Primary Producer Knowledge Network (PPKN) was set up last year to develop a range of prevention strategies for reducing the risk of work-related poor mental health for farmers and fishers. One of the key differences with this project is the strong involvement of primary producers themselves in developing these strategies to make sure what is developed is helpful and relevant for farmers and fishers. As Dr Kennedy explains, “we have worked extensively over a 12-month period with a wide range of primary producers and stakeholders from across different farming sectors—including dairy, broadacre cropping, horticulture and livestock production—as well as the commercial fishing sector. This project is designed by primary producers for primary producers. ”
An innovative and exciting new web-based platform is now about to be launched as part of the PPKN. ‘Campfire’ serves farmers and fishers through (i) interaction with experts and peer networks, (ii) practical tools and resources, and (iii) solution-focused stories that address work-related challenges. The platform will help improve farmers and fishers systems of work to better manage the demands and challenges of primary production, and develop mentally healthy workplaces for owners/managers, workers and their families. ‘Campfire’ topics have been developed to address work-related risk factors to mental health including low job control, high job demand, low role clarity, poorly managed relationships and poor levels of support.
“This is all about finding solutions and practical ways for our farmers and fishers to take action,” explained Dr Kennedy. “Campfire brings primary producers together in a relaxed environment where people with shared interests can get together, listen to experts and peers, ask questions and pose solutions. Campfire will cover a wide range of topics from ways to work more effectively with family members and seasonal/contract workers, through to decision making, succession planning and knowing more about the experts that are out there to help us get through challenging times. The online Campfire will be lit each Tuesday – Thursday evening from 7.30pm, with a Bonfire event held fortnightly to hear from topic experts and ask questions.”
“We also know that not all producers will be interested or comfortable in an online environment,” said Dr Kennedy. “Because of this, Campfire will be supported by a range of complementary materials including podcasts, blogs, social media and hard copy resources. There is something for every primary producer. We will also be running a Victoria-wide roadshow over the coming months to showcase Campfire and highlight ways to build mentally healthy workplaces for farmers and fishers.”
More information about the Primary Producer Knowledge Network can be seen here: https://farmerhealth.org.au/campfire/primary-producer-knowledge-network.
The Campfire digital platform can be accessed here: https://farmerhealth.org.au/campfire
The Primary Producer Knowledge Network and the Campfire platform is being funded by the Victorian Government’s WorkSafe WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS PROJECT, PLEASE CONTACT:
National Centre for Farmer Health:
Dr Alison Kennedy
Senior Research Fellow Deakin University
Phone: 03 5551 8533