There are fears that Queensland’s severe drought could trigger even more suicides by farmers.
A new study has found 147 farmers committed suicide in Queensland in the decade after the 2000, compared to 92 in New South Wales.
Researchers say the number of suicides in NSW could be even higher, but it is harder to define because of the way the statistics are gathered.
There is more work to do to find out why the number is higher in Queensland.
The study was conducted by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention, in collaboration with the University of Newcastle.
The institute’s Urska Arnautovska says the farmer suicide rate is roughly double that of the general population.
“Being unmarried may likely be a risk factor. And potentially as well that any relationship breakdown or separation may be as well a significant stressor, which has been found in general literature on suicide factors in men,” she said.
“If we don’t know what exactly is driving the suicide rates in specific communities, it’s very hard to then deliver tailored suicide prevention initiatives that really address the issues that each farming community is facing.”
With at least 60 per cent of Queensland in drought, concern is growing for the mental health of farmers.
Charles Burke from the rural lobby group Agforce says farmers are facing financial, physical and emotional pressure.
“Day after day after day of relentless hot weather and having to feed deteriorating stock and watch water disappear, and all that associated angst about what is going to happen,” he said.
Mr Burke says he is lobbying the Queensland and Federal Governments for better mental health assistance.
“The State Government has indicated that they are resourcing extra workshops to look at the emotional aspect of drought,” he said.
“There has been a little bit of a delay in getting that out.
“But we’re certainly hopeful that that will be operational soon.
“We’ve also made representations to the Federal Government.”
Farmers may be reluctant to seek help
Sue Masel, a doctor at Goondiwindi in southern Queensland, says while there is growing awareness about mental health, the options for help are stretched thin.
“I know that if I had somebody sitting in my chair and I really wanted them to see a psychiatrist very quickly, unless they were experiencing a crisis where they were at risk of taking their own life, it would take some weeks for them to be able to access psychiatry services,” she said.
She says there is often a reluctance to ask for help.
“They are very resilient,” she said.
“They’re used to the ups and downs of the vagaries of the weather and the vagaries of the market.
“So I think it is a difficult thing to reach a point where you realise that you’re not well.
“And not in a way which is easily identifiable, like a physical illness.
“So I think that there is a resistance there and that probably makes it a little bit more difficult for people to put their hand up.”
If you or a member of your family need help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.