News

Mental health support for Victoria’s primary producers

By Country News

A new network has been created to help protect the mental health of workers in primary production.

The Primary Producer Knowledge Network project will be delivered over two years and has been developed by the National Centre for Farmer Health — a partnership between Western District Health Service and Deakin University in Hamilton, Victoria.

Funded by WorkSafe’s WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund, this initiative will collaborate with farmers, fishers and industry partners to develop evidence-based and practical strategies to protect mental health.

The resources will be delivered online through a website and social media platforms.

Project lead Dr Alison Kennedy from Deakin University said primary producers, including farmers and fishers, were a vulnerable workforce in industries undergoing significant transition, who experience a wide range of workplace-related mental health challenges.

“This exposure 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,” Dr Kennedy said.

Western District Health Service chief executive officer Rohan Fitzgerald said it was important to involve the community in developing the network.

“If we are to achieve our goal of building healthier communities, we need programs that are tailored to the needs of community members,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“The Primary Producer Knowledge Network will work with a wide range of primary producers from across different farming sectors — including dairy, broadacre cropping, horticulture and livestock production — as well as the commercial fishing sector.

“This level of involvement will mean that resources developed will be relevant, practical and have the potential to make lasting and meaningful change across a wide range of workplace settings.”

Dr Kennedy said that while promoting good mental health was an important first step in ensuring a healthy workforce, identifying and addressing structural factors at the heart of workplace operations was important for long-term prevention of poor mental health.

“While some of these factors might be found across a range of sectors — like the challenges that come with a family run and owned business — others will be specific to certain industries,” she said.

For more information about the project, contact Dr Alison Kennedy at the National Centre for Farmer Health via a.kennedy@deakin.edu.au or by phoning (03) 5551 8533.