From dairy farmer to mental health advocate

There was a moment, after travelling through New Zealand, to Canada, then France, Poland and Ireland, where Sarah Crosthwaite realised – deep in an Argentinian paddock – that all people wrestle with similar issues.

“Even though I grew up on a farm, I’ve always been more interested in health science than agricultural science. But I had this quiet conversation with a farmer where he shared the trials and tribulations of farming,” Sarah says.


“I realised it’s not about the soil and the worms – it’s about the people. No matter where we farm across the world, we all have common challenges, and we are all dealing with the same problems.”


In 2023, Sarah received a Nuffield Scholarship. The Gardiner Foundation, in partnership with Nuffield Australia, offers a farming scholarship to a Victorian dairy farmer each year. It provides an opportunity for a farmer to investigate an agricultural topic of their choice and to innovate on their own farms and in dairy communities.


Sarah is a dairy farmer and accredited mental health social worker. She chose to study how different agricultural sectors across the world support their producers’ mental health – especially in a changing climate.


“My aim is to understand and share with Australia’s agricultural industries learnings that have been gained from my travels in relations to farmers’ mental health and wellbeing,” she says.


Currently, Sarah is studying how these can be implemented to support dairy farmers mental health in North-east Victoria.


Sarah and husband Stuart run The Hermitage Dairy Pty Ltd operation in the Kiewa Valley. It has 500 Friesian cows over 1,500 acres, producing four million litres of milk per year. The farm is located about 30 minutes from Wodonga, and within an area at risk of bushfires and flooding.


For some time, Sarah worked part-time as a Natural Disaster Clinician as part of the Victoria Bushfire recovery. It gave her a nuanced understanding of the challenges farmers and rural communities face accessing support.


“You often hear there are not enough mental health services or support in small communities. However, I felt like there are services, but I wasn’t sure whether I lived in a community with lots of support or whether there was a disconnect on how people understand and access these,” she says.


Sarah believes mental health promotion is working – the stigma is declining, and people have a better understanding of what poor mental health looks like. However, when mental health promoters come into a community, there is little talk about how to seek external support if needed.


“My Nuffield journey has helped me understand the importance of ensuring people get appropriate services. But we need to be doing more in the way of educating farmers,” she says.


“We’ve done well talking about mental health, now we need to let people know what kinds of services are available. Many counsellors and therapists do wonderful work – however, farmers can sometimes feel a disconnect if the counsellor doesn’t have a good understanding of life on the land.”


Sarah holds a Master of Social Work and is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker. Now that she has gained valuable global insight and conducted further research into her topic, Sarah has gained the confidence to establish her own counselling service.


Sarah is halfway through her Nuffield Scholarship and set to fly to Europe later this year to visit the UK, Germany and the Netherlands to complete her learning.


This article is an excerpt that has been reproduced with permission from Gardiner Foundation. Read the full version.


Sarah also features in a DairyPod episode, speaking with Gardiner Foundation Communications Manager Meghan Lodwick about mental health in agriculture and her Nuffield experience. Listen now.

You're viewing the Dairy Australia website. To view regional dairy information, select a region.
Cookies help Dairy Australia improve your website experience. By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies.