FRONTLINE STORIES: RURAL MEN’S HEALTH
Three years ago Joyce Brown started Stay Well NZ. Stay Well NZ brings free fast and friendly checks to rural events, where local farmers are encouraged to undergo an on the spot physical and mental health check. Any health conditions or potential health conditions are referred to further health professionals. A follow up phone call showed most people acted on the advice given. Joyce shares her story with us in this article.
I started Stay Well NZ about three years ago after many years watching how many farmers, particularly the men, will neglect to prioritise their health and staying well. If the lead farmer can no longer work, the farm is at risk, with enormous consequences for all involved. Farming in New Zealand is a tough industry. It gets physically exhausting with long days. The need to manage staff, care for animals seven days a week with often unknown financial return, makes planning difficult.
I have noticed more recently that the farmers I am seeing have learnt the value in getting off farm for at least a few days, taking a break and recharging, even when finances are tight. In past downturns, when finances were tight no one took time off, and expected to just carry on somehow. This year the general consensus has been “We can’t afford a holiday, but we can’t afford not to either,” and so the car and trailer have been loaded for a low cost holiday often close to home. As well as ‘recharging’ and reconnecting with family and friends, having a break away and returning to the farm brings a new perspective, and fresh enthusiasm to challenges.
One of the most common health challenges I come across at rural health checks is sleep deprivation. Through the spring months in particular, I would say most farmers are running in sleep deficit. Early mornings are not balanced with early nights, and when each day is physically demanding energy levels are depleted, and tempers fray.
Easy access to technology has not helped this, especially if devices are in bedrooms, with hours quickly slipping by, and sleep patterns disrupted by screen time.
Psychologists will tell you 90% of people who attempt suicide are chronically sleep deprived, not only affecting their physical ability, but their mental skills to work out options on how to keep themselves safe and stay in control of what they can influence. There are farm owners out there running their farms without staff, in order to balance their budget, and expecting their bodies and brains to function without enough daily rest or time off the farm to connect with other people.
As a community, we need to bridge the gaps, ring or email your neighbour, encourage him to be part of an off-farm activity he enjoys on a regular basis. Some areas have started interest groups for men only to try zumba, or enjoy music, or create something, or try a new sport all offering a chance to talk together. It doesn’t matter what, just something enjoyable regularly.
What about delivering a meal, or inviting your farming neighbours to join you for coffee. It doesn’t need to take long, but it is vital to encourage these rural people to stay connected to the world. We need strong communities who can look after themselves, and each other in practical ways that are simple and open to all.
We ignore the basics and then wonder why we are unwell. Don’t let it be you who collapses, when you have the chance to change the outcome.
Farmer Wellness Ambassador
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