The “three Ps” of sustainability – people, planet and profit – are often used to explain what sustainability means. In most cases, the middle P gets most prominence in light of climate change, biodiversity crises and water quality problems.

This means that the people part of sustainability often gets overlooked, which is a huge oversight.

This is one of the busiest times of year on all farms. Stress levels are highest, things can and do go wrong and the whole situation can get on top of people. The effects of this stress can take a variety of forms from mild stress through to burnout, mental illness and depression.

Stress is defined as being a continuum with various levels – a bit like a hand throttle in a tractor, it can go from ticking over to full revs where everything is at breaking point.

People have different tolerances for stress and a situation which might be fine for one person could be a trigger point for another.

The Dairy NZ website breaks down stress into five areas. It says good stress is where someone is motivated to find a solution to a problem. For example, grass is scarce because growth rates have been poor, so you work through different options to find a solution.

Excessive stress is where everything is seen as a problem and a negative.

People suffering from excessive stress might lie awake at night worrying about all the problems on the farm; you might feel everything is stacking up against you but, despite feeling helpless, you carry on.

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged excessive stress.

People who are suffering from burnout might continue farming but they don’t have the energy to worry about results or solving problems.

Mental illness is the state where our normal functioning such as eating, sleeping and carrying out daily tasks is seriously impaired.

The website says it is a mental or bodily condition marked by the disorganisation of personality, mind and emotions.

If experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately from your GP, Pieta House 1800 27 247, Samaritans 116 123 or by calling 999.

Symptoms include not being able to think straight and wanting to stay in bed. Anybody can end up in this situation if they get too overwhelmed.

It’s important to get help if you find yourself in this place.

If experiencing suicidal thoughts and ideation, seek help immediately from your GP, Pieta House by calling 1800 27 247, Samaritans on 116 123 or by calling 999.

Signs of burnout and mental illness

Going through unhealthy stress for long periods can lead to burnout. Farmers should look out for signs of burnout in themselves, their employees or family members.

According to the HSE, common signs of burnout include:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time.
  • Feeling helpless, trapped or defeated.
  • Feeling detached or alone in the world.
  • Having a cynical or negative outlook on things that were previously of interest.
  • Prolonged self-doubt about areas of work that were previously easy.
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done or rattled by indecision.
  • Feeling overwhelmed and unable to manage time properly.
  • Red flags

    Dairy NZ suggests the following are red flags for mental illness and burnout:

  • Often sick with colds, flus or tummy bugs.
  • Constantly irritable.
  • Quick and noticeable weight loss or gain.
  • Dependent on caffeine to get through the day (more than four caffeine drinks daily).
  • Frequent arguing with friends, family and work colleagues.
  • Making self-degrading comments (eg “I’m useless”, “I’m going nowhere”, “I can’t do anything right”).
  • Sudden changes in mood, personality or behaviour, which last for several weeks.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Helping someone who looks like they’re heading towards burnout or depression

  • Be on their side – let them talk as listening is a powerful tool.
  • Show understanding and sympathy.
  • Don’t judge them.
  • Avoid offering advice.
  • Avoid making comparisons.
  • Don’t try to minimise their pain or act like it’s not a big deal.