Sunday, November 27, 2022

Are you a farmer who has been affected by bushfires?

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Farmers who have been through a bushfire are wanted for a research project looking to gain a better understanding of the psychological impacts of bushfires and the support that farmers want in the aftermath.

Australian farm

The lead researcher, Dr Kate Gunn, Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Psychologist from the University of South Australia, herself grew up on a farm near Streaky Bay in South Australia.

Dr Gunn and her research assistant, Ms Shannen van der Kruk, hope to speak confidentially with fire-affected farmers from around Australia.

Background

Farming is known to be one of the most physically and psychologically hazardous occupations. A characteristic of farming that makes it psychologically hazardous, is the fact that farmers’ levels of economic (and sometimes self-perceived personal) success is largely dependent upon factors beyond their control. One such stressor are bushfires. However, there is little research exploring how the psychological impact of these bushfires affect Australian farmers and how they would like to be supported to cope effectively with the trauma that can accompany such an event.

Research conducted in Australian fire-affected communities shows that exposure to bushfires increases the risk of experiencing a mental health illness such as PTSD, depression, severe mental illness, and psychological distress. Farming communities, in particular, have been severely impacted by bushfires and many farmers, in addition to the experiences of other fire-affected individuals (e.g. losing a home), may have also lost their crops, livestock, machinery and therefore their livelihoods.

However, due to their geographic remoteness, farmers have reduced access to mental health support. They are often also reluctant to seek out mental health services due to, for example, overwhelming workloads and concerns about stigma, privacy and being misunderstood by people who don’t understand their way of life.  

The aim of this project is to get a better understanding of the unique psychological impacts of bushfires on farmers and more importantly, determine how they would like to be supported to address these challenges.

This will aid in the co-design of new ifarmwell website content (www.ifarmwell.com.au) that informs farmers, and their supporters of ways they can prepare psychologically for future bushfires, including to help them rebuild if they have experienced them in the past, in a farming-focused way. Findings will also be used to educate the broader population about the specific experiences of farmers who are affected by fires (e.g. emotional impact of losing stock and crops).

The project is being funded by the Commonwealth and the Government of South Australia under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements, Wellbeing SA and the Department of Rural Health, University of South Australia.

bushfire affected farmers flyer

Research team

Dr Kate Gunn is a Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Psychologist at the University of South Australia. She grew up on a South Australian farm in an isolated rural community near Streaky Bay. She has been researching farmers’ wellbeing for more than 10 years and has worked with farmers from across Australia. Her work as a Clinical Psychologist and her experience of growing up at a farm, has led to the development of the website www.ifarmwell.com.au, which aims to equip farmers with new tools that reduce the negative impact that stressful situations have on their lives, so they have more time and energy to focus on the things that make them happy.

Ms Shannen van der Kruk (research assistant) has been working with Dr Kate Gunn for the last two years. She has a background in health sciences and epidemiology and has investigated the psychosocial needs of cancer patients and survivors living in rural or regional areas. Her interests are in improving the health and well-being of people in the community and contributing to the greater wellbeing of society.

The team would like to speak to people who:

  • currently own or play an active role in the operation of a farming or pastoral enterprise in Australia;
  • have been affected by a bushfire within the last 20 years;
  • are 18 years or older; and
  • are fluent in English.

For further information or to express an interest, please email: Dr Kate Gunn, Senior Research Fellow, Kate.Gunn@unisa.edu.au   or   Ms Shannen van der Kruk, Research Assistant, Shannen.vanderKruk@unisa.edu.au

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