Community Stories

Local Farmer Rallies for Mental Health

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Meet Sherri McMahon, a local St Albans farmer rallying the community to connect with each other and build resilience.

Living with mental illness and having a personal experience of life on the land has motivated Sherri to help local farmers weather the drought.

Armed with a Well-Being Grant to Support Farming Communities, over the next year Sherri and the trustees of the St Albans Common look forward to delivering a variety of services to the community. These will include health services as well as vets, solicitors, mental health services, and rural financial counsellors will be attending musters, fishing events, working bees and an annual whole of community social dinner to ensure the community is seeking and receiving support.

Mental health training will also be delivered to community advocates who will run errands such as preparing firewood and feeding cattle to support elderly or injured members of the community. Additionally, workshops will be delivered on the Commons to locals interested in learning new skills.

Sherri knows first-hand the effect the drought has had on the community and just how hard it can be to acknowledge you have a problem and to seek help. Like many adverse events, the current drought can exacerbate existing mental health issues and trigger negative feelings.

“Farmers have had to put down their sick stock that are in poor condition, or who have eaten poisonous plants that they would not normally eat. Other community members have left the St Albans valley in search of other employment to support their farms.”

“We could see we were in for long hot, dry spells with little or no chance of rains. We watched our pastures turn to dust despite our efforts to irrigate our small paddocks. The price of grain has increased, as well as fodder due to shortages in grain being harvested.”

“We chose to downsize our beef cattle herd by about 50 per cent and take the loss rather than trying to keep all the animals. By downsizing we lost female breeding stock we had selectively bred over the years.”

Sherri says that without her friends and family noticing the signs she may have continued undiagnosed. She agrees that seeking help led her to some breakthroughs.

“Professional help has been able to give me coping tools and techniques. They were also able to give me different ways to look at things and direct to services that (were) available to assist myself and my family."

Sherri looks forward to getting underway with the community but in the meantime she offers some words of advice to anyone who may be experiencing a difficult time.

“Don’t downplay your situation, don’t compare yourself to others. You may not think you need help, but if you have the symptoms, get help. I literally wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. The sooner you accept you are suffering and reach out, the sooner you can get back on track.”

“It may just save you, your farm and your family.”

If you or someone you know needs help, contact: Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or www.beyondblue.org.au; Suicide Line 1300 651 251; Mens Line 1300 789 978; Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au.