Mental health issues amongst farmers and farm workers is increasingly concerning. Indeed, in February of this year, Farmers Weekly, amongst others, reported that 84 percent of young farmers (those in the below 40 category) are so concerned about mental health issues, that they believe it to be the greatest threat to the industry. Certainly, it is shocking that the Wales DPJ Foundation reported that every week a farm / agricultural worker takes their own life in the UK – that’s 52 people per year. What is also alarming, is that these figures were reported before the huge challenges wrought by the coronavirus outbreak and the undoubted upcoming challenges next year, resulting from the end of the Brexit transition period on the 31st of December, which could potentially see UK farmers trading with competitors in their most important market, without a trade agreement in place. Therefore, in this week’s blog, we will take a closer look at mental health issues in farming, to help raise awareness of this increasing concern.
The Day-to-Day Challenges of Farming
As is commonly known, farming can be a hugely challenging profession. There are a number of challenges that farmers face on a day-to-day basis, these include: hard physical graft, long hours, long periods of isolation, financial pressures, the uncertainty of the weather, the extremes of which can severely impact upon, for example, the health and wellbeing of livestock, or crop harvest yields. Furthermore, as alluded to above, coupled with these immediate, day-to-day challenges, the farming industry is also, perhaps more than a lot of industries, greatly vulnerable to the impact of political decisions, in terms of trade policies for instance. Therefore, it is quite evident that farmers experience not only, a heavy physical load in terms of the nature of their work, but also, the potential for extreme mental pressure and the subsequent mental health issues that could arise.
Mental Health and Farming Culture
Many suggest that there remains a stigma within farming culture, around opening up and talking about issues of mental health; consequently, many in the farming community have little understanding or knowledge of mental health. Such a lack of understanding and knowledge has historically resulted in a perpetual feedback loop, which has maintained the stigma around mental health within farming culture, discouraging farmers from opening up and talking.
Encouragingly, there are signs that the stigma within farming culture is beginning to change. The very fact that mental health issues are now being discussed openly in agricultural media outlets, is a huge step forward. Furthermore, many organisations in the industry are supporting and promoting mental health initiatives (Eg. The NFU have become increasingly involved) and there are counselling and psychotherapy practices emerging, specifically targeted towards helping farmers and agricultural workers (Eg. http://www.strong-heart.co.uk/). Nevertheless, it is crucial that all in our industry start taking measures to continue the process of changing the mental health stigma aspect of farming culture, by talking, being open and honest and raising awareness about mental health. This will be crucial, particularly at the moment and as we move into next year, given the extra challenges brought about in 2020 by coronavirus and the further challenges farmers in the UK will undoubtedly face, in 2021, as the Brexit transition period ends.
If you are concerned about mental health, be it yours, or someone you know, as suggested by Farmers Guide (2020), there is free, impartial and confidential support available from, the Farming Community Network & RABI, RSABI (Scotland) and the Addington Fund (Housing Support) via Farming Help. Tel: 0300 011 1999 (7am-11pm) www.farminghelp.co.uk.
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