Factors in your workplace can impact on your mental health – such as poor workplace relationships, issues with communication, low job control, and high work demands. These are called work-related factors, which when not addressed can increase the risks of workplace stress or lead to poor workplace mental health. However, there are some simple ways to reduce these risks on your farm.
Most farmers are farming because they love it, even though it can be pretty stressful at times. You know that looking after safety and mental health is important – but there are times when safety practices can let us down. This can impact farm productivity as well as stress levels. It’s never you, until it is – so take steps early on, to prevent an injury from impacting you, your workers, or your family, on the farm.
On-farm injuries, particularly severe ones, create two immediate, often long-lasting problems – what happens to the farm and, more importantly, what happens to the farmer?
Because the research1,2 confirms the farmer’s recovery is often more emotional or mental health related rather than physical health-related, the implications can linger for years – even for life.
The injury, the recovery and the rehabilitation create a unique series of problems tied directly to the unique lifestyle of the man or woman on the land.
In many ways the farmer isn’t just the general of the business, the farmer is – especially in their own mind – the whole business.
So losing that direct control, daily input and decision making is bound to have impacts. Impacts starting the first time the injured farmer realises they have to ask for help – possibly for something as routine as eating to as invasive as using the toilet; and as disenfranchising as having to surrender the running of the farm to someone, anyone, else.
The Rural and Remote Health report It could have been a lot worse: the psychological effects of farm-related serious injury in Victoria, recognising the agriculture industry has one of the highest workplace injury and illness rates in Australia, says an evaluation of on-farm injuries found “49.4 per cent reported depressive and post-traumatic symptoms following an occupational injury”.
In a nutshell the outcome, even when the injured farmer realises things could have been a lot worse, such as being crippled for life, or dead, is too often an uphill mental health journey, every step affected by a potential minefield of post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
“Farming is acknowledged as a stressful occupation, with non-injured farmers already at an increased risk of significant psychological problems, including high levels of stress, symptoms indicative of depression and increased rates of suicide,” the report noted.
It would be hard to find a gloomier scenario but the very fact the triggers and responses have become so well identified and documented has created the opportunity for post-injury support to help not just the injured farmer – but also their family and wider support network – to better embrace the raft of services and specialists available to make the return to normal life, or as normal as possible, a tangible goal.
Each scenario differs, often depending on the period of recovery, and its financial, as well as physical and mental, cost and how each farmer and their family react will be as unique as the farmer’s life pre-accident.
Despite the reported importance of maintaining a pragmatic mindset for recovery, due to the severity and traumatic nature of their injuries, many participants experienced ongoing emotional impacts.
Helplessness has emerged as a prominent theme, often accompanied by frustration and grief for the loss of their pre-injury life on the farm.
I grieved the life I used to have – it made it hard to leave the house, even now, because some things remind me of my life before the accident (Farmer, spinal injury)*
In particular, farmers with an ongoing physical disability speak about an overall lack of independence experienced as a direct result of their injuries.
I struggled with losing all my independence – it was mentally very difficult to rely on others to help me, I felt useless. (Farmer, brain injury)*
In some cases, the accident trauma has a more profound psychological effect on the spouse or family member, for myriad reasons, including witnessing the incident or the immediate aftermath, fear for the health of the loved one, additional stressors such as caring for the injured, day-to-day running of the farm, and increased financial concerns.
But these farmers are also an important resource; their experiences and perspectives could help develop educational and transitional support services from recovery back to working at a preinjury level, while ensuring farming production is sustainable during this period. Furthermore, farm safety programs can be enhanced by the engagement of farmers, such as participants in this study as advocates for improved farm safety practices.
Because narrative-based farm-safety messages show more positive reception – the health of the farm relies on the farmer being healthy.
Injuries on the farm can lead to stress, long-term health concerns and loss of income or even fatalities, so preventing them from happening is the best way of protecting your mental health. When it comes to running the family farm, investing in mental health initiatives is not only good for your family and workers, but it’s good for business too.
The NCFH is supporting farmers just like you to manage and respond to work-related risks that impact on workplace mental health – these are factors in your work that can affect an employee’s mental health and include high job demands, low job control, low role clarity and more. Strategies to manage these risk factors include planning ahead for any additional worker needs, matching tasks to the capabilities of individual staff, and giving regular feedback on a job well done.
Managing these factors, means decreasing the risk of work-related stress, which can prevent physical injury, mental injury or even both at the same time.
Find out more about being mentally safe on farm at www.farmerhealth.org.au/campfire.
1) Beattie, Jessica, Murray, Margaret, Mcleod, Candis, Pedler, Daryl, Gabbe, Belinda and Brumby, Susan 2018, What happens to the farm? Australian farmers’ experiences after a serious farm injury, Journal of agromedicine, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 134-143, doi: 10.1080/1059924X.2017.1422836.
2) Murray M, Beattie J, McLeod C, Pedler D, Brumby SA, Gabbe B. ‘It could have been a lot worse’: the psychological effects of farm-related serious injury in Victoria. Rural Remote Health. 2019 Sep;19(3):5323. doi: 10.22605/RRH5323. Epub 2019 Sep 14. PMID: 31522511.
* quotes are paraphrased and modified to protect the identity of participants
This blog is part of the Primary Producer Knowledge Network led by the National Centre for Farmer Health to promote mentally healthy workplaces. Campfire, part of The Primary Producer Knowledge Network, is funded by the Victorian State Governments WorkSafe WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.