Supporting the mental health of farmers in Southern Queensland, Australia

Eley, Robert M, Hossain, Delwar, Coutts, Jeff, Gorman, Don and Eley, Diann (2009). Supporting the mental health of farmers in Southern Queensland, Australia. In: Abstracts of the APA 117th Convention. APA 117th Convention, Toronto, Canada, (298-298). 6-9 August, 2009.

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APA_mental_health_of_farmers_in_Southern_Queensland_2__2_.doc file text application/msword 130
Author Eley, Robert M
Hossain, Delwar
Coutts, Jeff
Gorman, Don
Eley, Diann
Title of paper Supporting the mental health of farmers in Southern Queensland, Australia
Conference name APA 117th Convention
Conference location Toronto, Canada
Conference dates 6-9 August, 2009
Proceedings title Abstracts of the APA 117th Convention
Place of Publication Canada
Publisher APA
Publication Year 2009
Sub-type Poster
Start page 298
End page 298
Total pages 1
Language eng
Abstract/Summary Supporting the mental health of farmers in Southern Queensland, Australia Co-authors: Delwar Hossain1, PhD, Jeff Coutts2, PhD Don Gorman1 EdD and Diann Eley3 PhD 1University of Southern Queensland, Centre for Rural and Remote Area Health 2Coutts J&R, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia 3The University of Queensland, Rural Clinical School Background: Much of rural and remote Queensland, Australia has been suffering from extreme economic decline over the past decade. Loss of a large segment of the workforce to the mining industry and rising input costs such as fuel, fertilizer and seed have had a major impact on the productivity of the agricultural industry. The situation has been exacerbated by over a decade of drought. These factors have had a major effect on the mental health of rural landholders culminating in a suicide rate which is the highest in any occupational group. Unfortunately support is hindered by the lack of understanding regarding mental health issues and reduced accessibility to mental health services. Partially as a consequence of these issues famers with mental health problems often are reluctant or unable to access formal health services. Measures to address the diagnosis and treatment of this vulnerable group are needed. Farm extension agents (FEA) are often the first point of contact to farmers and provide an untapped resource to provide support. However few FEA have the knowledge to identify or support farmers who are depressed or at risk of self harm. To address this shortfall an intervention was designed whereby FEA were trained in mental health first aid1. Such training would, as with conventional first aid, provide skills and resources before professional help can be secured. Methods: The training utilised the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) programme which is a 12 hour course used extensively in every state and territory of Australia. Use of the training materials for this study set a precedent in that the course presentation was tailored for FEA following information collected during interactive focus groups. Attending the focus groups were representatives of organisations and agencies dealing with rural landholders, farmers and health professionals. Training of FEA was undertaken over a two day period. Pre training and six months post training participants were tested for their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes to mental illness by a study questionnaire. Face to face interviews were undertaken with all participating FEA and stakeholders prior to the training and again one year after the training to gain more in-depth perceptions. Results: Focus groups with stakeholders identified that the key areas contributing to the decline in mental health of rural landholders were: isolation in its varying forms; the ongoing drought; increased government regulations; and widening of the schism between urban and rural Australians. The issues that affect rural landholders were recognised to have a ‘knock-on’ effect on the people that interact with them. In particular rural support organisations expressed concern for the wellbeing of their own staff (FEA), prompting some to begin to put protocols in place should their staff need mental health support. Quantitative results of the 32 FEA who participated in the training are summarised in Table 1. Table 1. Responses by FEA pre and post MHFA training2. Mental health issue Pre training Post-training Comparisons Confidence 2.47 3.19 t=-3.74, a =.001 Knowledge 6.03 10.15 t= -6.04 a =.001 Social distance 1.91 1.78 t=0.78, a = .44 Belief in treatment 1.64 1.56 t = 1.51, a = .13 Personal attitude 3.32 4.36 t = -4.95, a = .001 Results indicated that the MHFA training had significantly improved FEAs’ confidence, knowledge and attitudes in dealing with mentally ill people in the community. They now know how to recognise the symptoms of mental illness, how to provide initial help, offer a referral pathway for appropriate professional help, improve reflective listening and empathy skills, and increase \ reported wellbeing among farming communities. One year after training during face to face interviews FEA offered their opinions of the course and the effect that it had had on their work and on their own personal life. They all recognised the benefit of the training and many noted that they had used the training to support either work colleagues or clients. Conclusion: The results show that the MHFA training is effective in enhancing mental health knowledge and skills of FEA. The agents who are a main line of contact of farmers are able to recognise mental disorders of people and help them appropriately. They are more willing to work with stigmatized people and know who to refer people to for help. Further study is required to evaluate the direct impact of training on the mental health and wellbeing of the farming community. 1Hossain, D. Eley, R., Coutts, J., and Gorman, D. (2008). Mental Health of farmers in Southern Queensland: issues and support. Australian Journal of Rural Health 16, 343-348. 2 table adapted from Hossain D, D Gorman, R. Eley and J Coutts. Enhancing the Knowledge and Skills of Advisory and Extension Agents in Mental Health Issues of Farmers. Australasian Psychiatry (in press).
Subjects EX
321217 Health Counselling
321204 Mental Health
Q-Index Code EX
Q-Index Status Provisional Code

Document type: Conference Paper
Collection: School of Medicine Publications
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Created: Mon, 24 Aug 2009, 14:00:59 EST by Erin Bowly on behalf of Rural Clinical School - South West Qld Region