Farmers face depression, anxiety problems

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
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WA's peak financial counselling service for farmers has warned of growing problems of depression, anxiety, drug use and pornography addiction in the Wheatbelt.

Rural Financial Counselling Service chief executive Chris Wheatcroft said yesterday that an increasing number of farmers and their partners were being prescribed antidepressants and drugs to control anxiety.

Mr Wheatcroft told a major agricultural conference in Northam that a clinical psychologist working in the Wheatbelt had been inundated with women struggling to cope because their husbands refused to acknowledge the depth of their financial problems.

The psychologist also reported that recreational drug addiction and pornography addiction were becoming big problems as farmers' normal behaviour patterns broke down under significant and prolonged stress.

"There are very desperate people out there and it is not simply about money, though perhaps falling profitability is a key cause," Mr Wheatcroft told the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences conference.

"Their individual problems are not just their problems, but a community problem."

Mr Wheatcroft said the sooner the extent of the problems was made public, the sooner communities could start to deal with them.

The financial counselling service, funded by the State and Federal governments, has about 800 clients in the Wheatbelt where huge debts and a run of poor seasons have pushed families in some communities to the brink.

Speaking outside the conference, Mr Wheatcroft said the emerging social, physical and mental problems were common to any group exposed to extreme stress for long periods.

He said the counselling service focused on an holistic approach to financial counselling based on trying to help people achieve realistic goals.

Financial counsellors only raised the issue of prescription drug use with their clients if it appeared to be affecting their decision-making.

WAFarmers president Dale Park told the conference that there was life after farming for people who had had to leave the industry. Mr Park said they often went on to have highly successful careers in other industries and were held in high regard by employers.

The State Government reallocated $1.5 million from its farm relief package into operational grants of $25,000 yesterday.

The move came after the $1.5 million allocated for exit grants in June proved too difficult for farmers to get access to under the strict eligibility criteria.

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