Mark and Lisa Wilms, Willow Grove - November// 2024 Mental Health Calendar
by Gippsland Jersey
Since 2007, Mark has been battling mental health periodicially, an ordeal that has significantly impeded his ability to oversee his dairy farm, compelling his wife Lisa to assume a more significant role.
Mark's dedication to dairy farming is rooted in a lifetime within the farming community. However, reoccurring bouts of mental health have cast a shadow on his ability to maintain this commitment. Lisa's narrative begins with a recount of a harrowing incident in 2007, amidst a drought, when Mark's erratic behaviour whilst driving the herd into the yard signalled a deeper issue. “It wasn’t until that point, I went, ‘something’s majorly wrong.’” This realization was a watershed moment for Lisa, who was then forced to recalibrate her role within the farm and their family life.
The farm's daily operations, which never halt, exacerbated Mark's condition, particularly during the intensive periods of calving and feeding cows. Lisa, observing the cyclical nature of Mark's mental health, stepped in and assumed responsibility for making crucial decisions about the farm's operations, “My role changed a lot. I had to. It took me a long time to accept that he couldn't make decisions.”
Lisa's transition from partner to leader and caretaker has been a formidable challenge. She has had to adapt to reading the nuances of Mark's mental state, recognizing the signs of his depressive episodes. His behavioural changes became indicators for Lisa to provide the necessary support. “You can pick up little signs now. He goes away from the farm fast. He comes back to the farm really slow. And I know that sounds really bizarre, but you just pick it up.”
Support for Mark also comes from his friends, who can detect shifts in his demeanour, particularly when he becomes withdrawn—a contrast to his otherwise social and lively personality. It’s in sharing experiences with friends who have faced similar challenges that Mark feels is his most useful coping mechanism.
Their story encapsulates the harsh reality of mental health issues that arise within the dairy industry—a profession that allows very little respite for personal afflictions. Lisa's resilience and adaptability underscore the silent crisis many farm families face when mental health issues surface. The financial worth of the farm becomes inconsequential when the farmer's wellbeing is at stake, “If you haven't got your health, you got nothing.”
Mark and Lisa's experience sheds light on the personal sacrifices and adjustments farm families often make when facing mental health issues. It shows that while farming requires constant dedication, the well-being of the farmer is the cornerstone that supports the enterprise's success. As Lisa poignantly notes, wealth is meaningless without health, a maxim that resonates deeply within the agricultural community and beyond.