Their animals are dying, their children have forgotten what rain is and their very livelihoods are at stake. Australian farmers are at the end of their tether, with an increasing number experiencing depression and despair as the drought engulfs much of the country. With no significant rain predicted until March, many farmers are turning to anti-depressants and counselling. In New South Wales, where 99 per cent of the land has been declared drought-stricken, the Farmers Association warned on Friday that without millions of dollars of financial assistance Australia faces an 'economic, social and cultural catastrophe'. The association called on the government to pledge A$500 million (HK$2.18 billion) in drought relief, on top of the 'exceptional circumstances' funding already given to desperate farmers. 'The feedback we are getting from people on the ground is that many are near breaking point,' association president Mal Peters said. 'Farmers and rural communities are facing an immediate and severe cash crisis. 'Both the federal and state governments have taken steps to assist farmers, and these initiatives are welcome, but we now need a one-in-100-year solution for a one-in-100-year disaster.' Renowned for their stoicism in the face of drought, floods and bushfires, farmers usually shy away from any sort of psychological help. 'Counselling' normally consists of a long chat over a few beers at the local pub. But the scale of this drought has changed that. With many farmers living on isolated homesteads, some are turning to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, whose doctors and nurses criss-cross the Outback in planes providing health care to remote communities. Anne Wakatama, the service's chief medical officer for a vast tract of New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland, says farmers are attending weekly consultations keen to discuss their problems. 'People who are not used to suffering from depression often come to see us complaining of tiredness or not being able to sleep at night. It's only when you dig around that you realise that they are suffering from depression and anxiety,' Dr Wakatama said. Many farmers have had to sell up to 80 per cent of their livestock because they are no longer able to provide enough grazing. One farmer, who normally runs 25,000 sheep on his property in western New South Wales, is down to 6,000. The animals that remain are often in poor condition, and many become trapped in mud as they desperately seek water from shrinking water holes. 'Every day farmers are having to pull dead and dying animals out of mud holes,' Dr Wakatama said. 'They are not sentimental about their animals but they care for them and they take pride in them. Seeing them in that state is heartbreaking.' Animals which are too weak to survive are shot and either buried or burned. Strong winds are whipping up dust storms which roll across the parched landscape, and hardy eucalyptus trees are dying for lack of water. 'People are coming to us saying 'we don't know if we have the energy to pick ourselves up any more',' Dr Wakatama said. 'A lot of young people are leaving the land, leaving behind their parents who are in their late 50s and early 60s. Some of them are finding it very hard to cope.' The Farmers Association says farmers need not only short-term financial assistance, but also longer-term low-interest loans to help them build up breeding stock once the drought breaks. The association wants the government to offer drought recovery loans of up to A$130,000 at 3 per cent interest, to be paid back over 10 years.