The Farm Link suicide prevention project
Above: Farm Link Project Coordinator Anne-Marie Holley
The Farm Link suicide prevention project seeks to improve the mental health and well-being of people who live and work on NSW farms. Farm Link achieves this through the pursuit of three critical aims: to better address the needs of mental health in farming communities by helping frontline workers in agricultural roles understand and respond to distressed people; to identify and remove barriers to care for farmers; and to promote a more integrated system of care that forges effective links between health, human services and the agricultural sector. Farm Link is managed by The NSW Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health.
The NSW Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, University of Newcastle, was established in 2001 to develop new models of care and service particularly relevant to people and communities in rural and remote areas. Farm Link was formed in 2007 with funding from the Department of Health and Ageing under the National Suicide prevention Strategy.
About the Project Coordinator
Anne-Marie Holley has a professional background in social work and in previous roles worked in rural Victoria for 16 years. In 1987 she established a mediation service in Northern Victoria and in the 90’s worked for four years as a Senior Policy Advisor with the Victorian Department of Agriculture. Holley began her role as the Project Coordinator of Farm Link in mid 2007.
‘Anybody who’s worked in a rural area or with farming people for a long period of time will have been exposed to some harrowing personal stories about mental illness and suicide,’ she says. ‘I have a very strong view that isolation is bad for people. To work towards maintaining social connectedness in rural areas, and try to ensure that everyone has some community connection drives me.’
Farm Link is an innovative model that was founded on research and is consistent with policy (such as the National Mental Health Action Plan). It is primarily concerned with the linking of services.
Farm Link’s three critical components are delivered via:
the provision of Mental Health First Aid to frontline agricultural workers, which helps with understanding and responding to people with mental health problems;
the linking of services related to farmers and mental health and the development of a networked knowledge about services for people in rural areas; and
mapping pathways to care.
‘In each area there needs to be a very comprehensive, well understood, thoroughly oiled pathway to care,’ says Holley. ‘Knowing what those pathways are is critical to the delivery of effective mental health services.’
The two LIFE Framework Action Areas most relevant to Farm Link are Action Area 3: Improving community strength, resilience and capacity in suicide prevention and Action Area 4: Taking a coordinated approach to suicide prevention.
‘Action Areas 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3 are what we aim to do with the delivery of Mental Health First Aid,’ says Holley.
‘We do it through industry, involving vets and bankers and other professionals who work directly with farmers. Though Mental Health First Aid, they learn to be comfortable with people who are not well, and they learn helpful responses. They also learn about services that may help and we hope they are more comfortable to refer people in distress. This improves community strength and resilience in direct connection with mental health.
Until the current funding period ends in 2011 Farm Link’s plans include:
- Working in the mid-north coast and northern New England areas of NSW to map pathways to care, linking to services and promoting information about what services are available;
- providing Mental Health First Aid to front line Agricultural workers in those areas; and
- knowledge transfer about this innovative service model to benefit all of the services in rural and remote NSW.
Positive outcomes of the project include having high quality staff who “have been able to engage a complex range of stakeholders in a difficult problem” and have “put Farm Link on the ground in the areas where farming people live and work. In addition linking services concerned with mental health provision and improving understanding of each others’ roles and of farming life.
One of the project’s primary challenges concerns developing mechanisms that can be used for partners and other services to work differently providing mental health services in rural and remote communities.
Says Holley: ‘In NSW health, the question is what systems we can work towards to ensure that the linking of services is considered to be part and parcel in health services.’
Hiring, developing and keeping quality staff is another ongoing challenge. Holley believes that in a rural context this is particularly importantant. ‘You might get somebody who’s really good but rural communities are used to their professionals staying around for a long time. If you don’t invest in developing people’s skills, you can lose them,’ she says.
The following Farm Link partners are involved, interested and supportive of its goals:
- NSW Farmers Association; and
- NSW Health.
Email Project Coordinator Anne-Marie Holley.