12 very brave Gippsland dairy farmers have stepped outside their comfort zones and have allowed us to share their personal mental health story.
This calendar 📆 will serve as a starting point towards breaking down the stigma attached to mental health in our rural communities.
Our wish is that this calendar prompts honest and real conversations about a health issue that often we feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
Calendars will be distributed to 1400 dairy farms in Gippsland where it is hoped that this calendar will serve as a resource for any farmer suffering mental health struggles. The calendar will include help numbers to health services available. Through speaking to many Gippsland farmers over the past few months, we have found that most dairy farmers don’t know where to get help.
Motivation behind the calendar:
This calendar has been made in memory of my Dad, Michael Bowen (ice cream king of Gippsland) whose life was tragically taken by suicide on 22nd March, 2016.
That day was a life defining moment for me.
I absolutely loved my Dad. He was kind, compassionate and bold, a man who could make anything happen. His capacity for life equalled 3 men. He worked hard, 18 hours most days, so that he could give our family every opportunity possible. He was as strong as an ox, physically and mentally. Nothing could break him…or so we thought.
I’ll never forget the Sunday afternoon when he walked into my kitchen and started crying. It was the first time I’d seen my Dad cry. He’d lost a lot of weight, which I believed was due to cutting out bread from his diet. He’d also lost his enthusiasm for life, lost that fire in his belly. He no longer wanted his hair to be cut and was happy to sit on the couch all day.
It turns out these were the red flags of poor mental health.
Being the eldest daughter, I thought we could fix the matter as a family and get back to some normality in no time, but this was only the beginning of Dad’s mental health journey. For three years we were in ‘Struggle Town’ and eventually Dad entered a period of psychosis. He believed that the house was bugged and that people were watching him. We were almost convinced ourselves.
During this time, our family rallied around him. Everyone was so kind and patient. We tried our absolute best to do everything we could to relieve his mental health, and it was hard work!
Just when we thought we’d come through the worst of it, Dad took his own life. He would never, ever have chosen to do this if he wasn’t completely broken and was suffering more hurt than we would ever know. We are left with no answers, just a ripple of sadness and heartbreak.
Mental health is a serious illness that requires care, help and support. It cannot be left to fix itself – you must reach out and seek help.
We’ll be distributing 1400 calendars via tanker drop to every dairy farmer in Gippsland. The calendar will include the help numbers of health service providers and the stories of our amazing farmers who have very bravely stepped up and described their own mental health journeys and struggles. Our aim is to end the stigma and help save someone’s life.
Two years ago I’d never have dreamed I’d be involved in starting a milk company that advocates for mental health. Through Gippsland Jersey we’re working to destigmatise mental health and give back to farmers who need assistance. It’s been a privilege to speak to the farmers featured in this calendar; we hope that their stories might impact another farmer out there somewhere who might need a helping hand.
Sallie, Gippsland Jersey