Ross Read has spent most of his life working in the dairy industry. From the family farm he grew up on near Shepparton to his current job with Dairy Australia, farming has always been a big part of Ross’ life.
Yet there is another part to Ross’ life which he has only more recently come to terms with. Ross has experienced anxiety and depression, and acknowledges they have been simmering in the background for years. He can talk about them openly now.
“I’ve been seeing a counsellor now for about 10 years, she’s helped me to recognise that some of the thoughts and feelings which I thought everyone had are actually signs of mental illness,” says Ross.
“Whether it’s farm work or being in the office, I get in these situations where I put too much pressure on myself, I take on too much and worry what other people will think. I’m afraid of letting them down.
“I’ll also tend to withdraw from others. The trap of isolating myself was particularly easy when I was working alone on the farm.”
Ross says that part of his strategy for keeping well is having people in his life who can spot the signs that he might be struggling.
“My wife notices if I'm just sitting in my chair and not wanting to communicate, she’ll pick up on it. She’s an amazing support for me,” he says.
Ross’ counsellor has helped him keep things in perspective and recognise that he can’t control everything. Ross explains this by comparing his anxiety and depression to a fire.
“My illness is a bit like a fire. I can't control what’s happened to me in the past, but I can control the ‘fuel load’. I can control my reactions to things, the situation I’m in, and I can talk to my wife and my colleagues,” he says.
“There will be flare ups, so I need to be ready and build containment lines, which my counsellor helps me with. These containment lines are built with problem solving and advice, things that are common sense but are obscured by smoke at the time.”
It is this support network, Ross’ wife, colleagues and counsellor, who help him when things get tough. But Ross worries that some farmers don’t have the same support.
“Farmers often work by themselves and are tied to their land most of the time. They can also get stuck in thinking they have to take everything on themselves and be independent,” he says.
“I think there’s a lot to benefit from being involved in off farm activities, whether that be a local sporting club or farming discussion group to have that social connection. To me that’s the linchpin for farmers and it can make a huge difference.”
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