Drought-related stress among farmers: findings from the Australian Rural Mental Health Study

Med J Aust. 2018 Aug 20;209(4):159-165. doi: 10.5694/mja17.01200. Epub 2018 Jul 30.


Objectives: To investigate general and drought-related stress experienced by farmers at both the personal and community levels, and whether socio-demographic and community factors influence this stress.

Design: Multivariate analysis of data from the Australian Rural Mental Health Study (ARMHS), a longitudinal cohort study (2007-2013).

Setting: Non-metropolitan New South Wales.

Participants: Subset of 664 ARMHS participants (at baseline) who identified as living or working on a farm.

Main outcome measures: Personal drought-related stress (PDS), community drought-related stress (CDS), and general psychological distress (K10 score).

Results: Farmers who were under 35, both lived and worked on a farm, experienced greater financial hardship, and were in outer regional, remote or very remote NSW reported PDS particularly frequently. Of these factors, only being under 35 and increased remoteness were associated with higher incidence of CDS. Mild wet weather during the prior 12 months reduced PDS and CDS but increased general distress. Moderate or extreme wet weather did not affect PDS or general distress, but moderate wet weather was associated with increased CDS. Drought-related stress and general psychological distress were influenced by different socio-demographic and community factors.

Conclusions: Farmers in NSW experience significant stress about the effects of drought on themselves, their families, and their communities. Farmers who are younger, live and work on a farm, experience financial hardship, or are isolated are at particular risk of drought-related stress. Medical practitioners who provide assistance to farmers and farming communities can contribute to initiatives that relieve stress about drought.

Keywords: Climate change; Environment; Rural health services; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Droughts*
  • Farmers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New South Wales / epidemiology
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult