Farmer Tom Wollaston's wife Margo talks with her daughter Natasha and her granddaughter Abbey as a rainbow forms above them at sunset on their drought-affected property, located west of the town of Tamworth, in north-western New South Wales in Australia, 2 June 2018. Photo: David Gray / REUTERS

By Cate Swannell
30 July 2018

(MJA) – Farmers who are under 35 years of age, both live and work on a farm, are experiencing greater financial hardship, and are in outer regional, remote, or very remote New South Wales, more frequently report personal drought-related stress (PDS), according to research published by the Medical Journal of Australia.

The researchers, led by Ms Emma Austin, from the Centre for Water, Climate, and Land at the University of Newcastle, wrote that drought-related stress “may contribute to general psychological distress, but is distinguishable from it”.

“This stress included worry about the impacts of drought on themselves and on their families and communities, and was influenced by socio-demographic and community factors that were different from the factors that influenced the incidence of general psychological distress.”

Analysing data from the NHMRC-funded Australian Rural Mental Health Study (ARMHS), a longitudinal cohort study run from 2007 to 2013, the researchers sought to measure PDS, community drought-related stress (CDS) and general psychological stress (using the K10 score).

They found that the incidence of PDS was lower following mild wet periods and that of psychological distress higher. The incidence of CDS was significantly increased by moderate dry and moderate wet weather, and reduced by mild wet weather.

“Farmers [aged 18–34 years] reported higher PDS and CDS scores than older respondents,” Austin and colleagues wrote.

“The incidence of psychological distress was also significantly lower for participants aged 55 or more. The incidence of PDS was lower among retired than employed participants, and both PDS and psychological distress were lower among ‘prosperous’ or ‘very comfortable’ than for less financially secure respondents.” [more]

Drought-related stress hits young farmers hardest

A cow walks away from a water tank in a drought-effected paddock on farmer Tom Wollaston's property located west of the town of Tamworth in New South Wales, Australia, 2 June 2018. 'I can't seem to be able to do anything else apart from just feed, and keep things going, and it (the drought) seems to be one step ahead of me all the time. We'll battle it out, but it puts a strain on everyone,' said Wollaston. Photo: David Gray / REUTERS

ABSTRACT: Farmers who were under 35, both lived and worked on a farm, experienced greater financial hardship, and were in outer regional, remote or very remote NSW reported PDS particularly frequently. Of these factors, only being under 35 and increased remoteness were associated with higher incidence of CDS. Mild wet weather during the prior 12 months reduced PDS and CDS but increased general distress. Moderate or extreme wet weather did not affect PDS or general distress, but moderate wet weather was associated with increased CDS. Drought-related stress and general psychological distress were influenced by different socio-demographic and community factors.

CONCLUSIONS: Farmers in NSW experience significant stress about the effects of drought on themselves, their families, and their communities. Farmers who are younger, live and work on a farm, experience financial hardship, or are isolated are at particular risk of drought-related stress. Medical practitioners who provide assistance to farmers and farming communities can contribute to initiatives that relieve stress about drought.

Drought-related stress among farmers: findings from the Australian Rural Mental Health Study



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