Climate Change Is Freaking Farmers Out, Medically Speaking

via Flickr user Phillip Clapper

For a Ph.D, one Australian student decided to see just how much the longer, drier seasons are affecting the mental health of farmers in Australia. After two years and dozens of interviews, he submitted his findings, and they're not encouraging.

The town of Newdegate, in the far southwest of Australia, is sparsely populated but highly important to the country’s agricultural well-being. It supports a great deal of Australia’s wheat and sheep farming, but it’s also been, and will continue to be, hit very hard by climate change.

Longer, drier seasons have brought reduced precipitation and harsh dust storms to the area. “Given the vulnerability of the Great Southern to projected climate change, it is important that appropriate actions are taken by the whole community,” states the Australian government on one of its websites.

Neville Ellis, of Murdoch University, conducted interviews with 22 Newdegate farmers over two years about their lives and, especially, their senses of well-being. His findings confirm what you might expect: This sort of climate change, in an area vulnerable to extreme changes, has had a nasty effect on the mental health of farmers.

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The biggest problem seems to be the uncertainty. Farmers don’t know whether their crops will survive or be hit by a sudden drought or heat wave. They don’t know whether the storms will blow their now-dry topsoil away, ruining any chance for crops to grow. Ellis, in the study’s release, said: “So what you see in these dry seasons is that farmers will be checking forecast 10, 20, 30 times a day. They just don’t know what’s coming on the horizon, so there’s a degree of anxiety about what is coming their way.”

The anxiety, he says, is very similar to seasonal anxiety disorder, or SAD, but with the added problems that come from not knowing whether your job or income is safe.

Climate Change Is Freaking Farmers Out, Medically Speaking