Climate change-related drought is taking a toll on farmers’ mental health, according to a series of interviews with 22 producers in Newdegate, a farming community in Australia’s Wheatbelt.
“Farmers have always worried about the weather, but today that worry is becoming detrimental to their mental health and well-being,” concluded Neville Ellis of Murdoch University’s Centre for Responsible Citizenship and Sustainability. “They feel they have less ability to exert control over their farmlands, and as a result are fearful for their future.”
Ellis conducted the interviews in 2013 and 2014, “which proved to be some Western Australia’s warmest years on record and some of the driest for Southwestern Australia,” ThinkProgress reports. “Since the mid-1970s, Australia’s Wheatbelt has undergone an intense period of drying, with a 20% decline in rainfall over the past several decades. That trend is expected to continue as climate change worsens.”
The interviews pointed to uncertainty as the farmers’ biggest concern. “Some farmers would check weather forecasts on their phones ‘up to 30 times a day’ across numerous websites,” Geiling writes. Others “would track distant weather events, like storms in Africa, in the hope that those rains could potentially make their way to Australia.”
Ellis said one interviewee compared farmers’ condition with seasonal affective disorder, with the crucial difference that they were suffering from a lack of rain, not a lack of light.
“The farms are more than just a business for these farmer—it’s their home, their personal history. There is no escape if they have a bad day at work,” he told Geiling. “Some I talked to had become completely disengaged from the predictions and the forecasts. They shut themselves off in their properties with the curtains drawn so they wouldn’t have to face the realities outside.”