The day Warren Davies lay on his dairy floor wondering if the world was better off without him was a turning point in his mental health and personal journey. At the Annual Vegetable Industry Seminar, Warren described his mission to raise awareness and inspire conversations about mental health – particularly in regional and rural communities. Sophia Auld reports.

Warren’s tipping point came after a series of stressful farm-related events, but the seeds were sown earlier. His family moved a lot, making it hard to establish childhood friendships. The transition to high school was particularly tough.

“I was the only kid from my primary school who ended up there. The verbal bullying started the first day. It became physical by the end. That had a major impact on my mental health but also my education. I went from a straight A student in year seven to failing in year nine,” Warren said.

A move to the country proved positive, with Warren soon finding work on a dairy farm.

“Luckily it was with one of the best farmers in the district. He said, ‘if you stick with me, I’ll teach you everything you need to know’. I learned to be a plumber, welder, to grow grass, and fix cows and tractors.”

Another great thing was finding his girlfriend, now his wife. Getting engaged when Warren was 22, they purchased 200 acres next to his parents’ property and joined them together in a family business.

Farming challenges set in

However, they soon encountered troubles. First came a flood. “My farm turned into a swimming pool. We were underwater for about four weeks.” Warren said this taught him about overcoming adversity, but also triggered his adverse childhood experiences.

Next came a “family bust-up”, which led to Warren and his wife buying out his parents’ property. Despite a robust 10-year plan, their business dream began unraveling when prolonged drought struck.

By the third year, the situation was dire. “I was in a really dark place, spiralling out of control. When cows I was supposed to look after we’re starting to die, I felt a lot of guilt and shame.”

After coward punching his best mate on the AFL field, “I knew I was in a bad spot,” Warren said.  “I started to isolate myself.”

Following this came the “dark afternoon” lying on the dairy floor. “I call that my ‘two feet of perspective’ because at that moment, where I thought ending my life was the best option, my whole life flashed before my eyes. Life gave me two choices: I could continue to spiral out of control, or I could choose to become better,” he said.

“I chose to become better that afternoon.”

Ongoing drought meant they walked off their farm. Warren’s quest to find identity and purpose outside farming led to his speaking career as The Unbreakable Farmer.

Prioritise your mental health

Warren noted farmers are great at protecting their soil and crops, and should do the same for their most important business asset – themselves. He described three ‘As’ for doing this.

First is awareness. He recommends reviewing your social, physical, emotional, vocational, and financial wellbeing regularly, and knowing your values.

Second is acknowledge: your support networks (particularly finding five people you love and trust), your triggers, and the non-negotiable things you need to do for yourself.

Thirdly, act on what you can control, including practicing gratitude and mindfulness.

Helping others

Warren also offered tips for helping someone dealing with mental health challenges, including listening attentively, not judging, and being empathetic. He emphasised the importance of seeking help if you or someone you know needs it. Organisations like Lifeline and Rural Aid have the training and resources to assist.

Find out more: Click here to watch the the AVIS videos.

AVIS 2022 | ‘The Unbreakable Farmer’, with Warren Davies

The Annual Vegetable Industry Seminar is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

Project Number: VG21003