Rural communities’ health and wellbeing

New research on farm-related suicide and the factors behind it is a progressive step and will enable a more concerted focus on reducing rates, says Federated Farmers.

The study by Dr Annette Beautrais was conducted on behalf of the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand and funded by AgResearch.

As inaugural members of RHANZ, Federated Farmers has advocated for many years for an increased awareness on addressing issues related to rural health and wellbeing.

In her findings, Dr Beautrais reveals that general farm workers and males are the most vulnerable and more likely to take their own life.

The research, which is world-leading in terms of methodology, reaffirms the modern trend of less social engagement in rural areas and the apparent loss of community.

“Dr Beautrais’ findings show there’s definitely a need to revitalise our rural communities by encouraging the community to come together and engage with one another, along with ensuring adequate funding for rural health services,” said Katie Milne, a Council member and Federated Farmers’ wellbeing spokesperson.

“The reality is New Zealand has become more urbanised and that notion of civic engagement has diminished. We need to make sure that our rural communities build neighbourly spirit and share activities outside work,” she said.

The research also dispelled a society perception that farm suicides were a homogeneous group.

Dr Beautrais identified ‘six risk profiles’, with people in three of those groups being already diagnosed or showing associated signs of mental health issues.

“This is the first time it has been done before anywhere. It is something we can use and move forward with to reduce the incidence rates and better manage those who are most vulnerable.

“It also indicates that there needs to be more medical and psychosocial resources available for rural communities – long wait times for help is just not acceptable,” said Katie.

Provisional data for 2015/16 reveals there were 17 farm occupational related self-inflicted deaths.

From 2007-2015 there was 185 deaths based on the Coroners’ records.

In forty percent of cases a firearm was used.

“It goes without saying firearms are more accessible in rural areas than in urban areas. Farmers, farm workers and rural people generally consider hunting as a way to enjoy the great outdoors and to enhance the rural lifestyle.

“We have, and continue, to work with the police and Mountain Safety Council on education around use and where to safely store firearms.

“This research has given us a good base from which to address the issue with more clarity. At the end of the day, everyone in the community has a role to play.

“It may be as simple as encouraging people to look at new, or old socialising opportunities. Like starting a gym in someone’s garage, card night over winter, mixed netball, cricket, touch rugby or whatever at a non-serious level.

“Otherwise, through current and future initiatives we hope the incidence continues to decline – as it has since the Coroner started disclosing reports in 2007,” Katie said.

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