Why we should talk more about mental health in farming

This article is all about mental health in the farming community. Please help in breaking the stigma by tweeting in support of farmers who suffer from mental health, using the hashtag #FarmerMentalHealth and perhaps consider making a donation to The Farming Community Network through their JustGiving Page. Alternatively, donate to Papyrus through their Just Giving Page. Thank you.

Later today, in County Clare, Ireland, a group of farmers and others involved in rural communities will be meeting to discuss mental health in farming. The aim is to help break the stigma on the issue and to raise awareness of rural isolation and the problems it can cause.

A few years ago my own father, a farmer, had a break down as a result of mental stress, so I know all too well how the issue can cut to the heart of families. It was a scary time for us all. Thankfully though, he had people who were there for him. Of course, ideally it shouldn’t have got to the stage it did but, when it happened, we were able to deal with it together. However, not everybody has this. We need to talk about it, to encourage a situation in which the stigma is broken, for people to look out for the signs and to act before it is too late.

Suicide

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On 20th July 2014, 29 year old farmer Rob Chapman, from Northamptonshire, took his own life, driven by his poor state of mental health. Determined to raise awareness of Rob’s situation, friend Alex Paske began a twitter campaign, based on the Ice Buket Challenge and making use of the hashtag #tractorselfie4rob. People were asked to pose with tractors showing their support and donate to Papyrus, a UK-wide charity dedicated to helping prevent young people from taking their own lives. The aim was to raise awareness of mental health problems within the farming community and break the stigma. Unfortunately, whilst things are slowly improving, it remains a huge issue, and statistically one farmer will take their own life every week. In France, this is more like one every two days. Farming has one of the highest suicide rates of any occupational group.

Depression 

The most common mental health issue is depression, with one in five farmers suffering from it. However, even though it is so common, farmers aren’t likely to talk about it which deepens the issue. Farming is an incredibly tough job, with constant financial pressures, long hours, high levels of responsibility and having to face natural threats such as disease and the weather. It is little wonder that all of this places strain on mental health by encouraging high levels of stress. Most farmers will also spend much of their time by themselves, which leads to them feeling isolated and often makes the problems worse.

Depression is treatable, but the main challenge is getting to those farmers who are suffering before their problems get bad enough for them to take drastic action.

Fortunately, there are several organisations out there who provide support for those farmers who need it.

There is Papyrus, as explained above.

The Farming Community Network recruits volunteers who are farmers or connected with farming and understand the issues that farmers face. They are always on the end of the phone should a farmer need to talk to someone but doesn’t know where to face.

YANA (You Are Not Alone) is based at farmers in Norfolk and Suffolk who suffer from depression.

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution – there for farmers if they need it, to support them through times of financial hardship.

Of course, it is great that these bodies are there, but it still relies on the farmer or someone who is concerned about the farmer contacting them.

What should you do if you think a friend or a neighbour might be suffering?

  • The most important thing to do is to listen to them. Talking things through, as difficult as it might be for them, is really useful in itself and to know that somebody is there to listen to them is worth gold.
  • When you talk to them, you should encourage them to be open and honest with you.
  • Keep an eye on them to see that they aren’t getting into dangerous habits such as increasing their intake of alcohol.
  • If you want more information on mental health yourself, to help you with talking to people who are suffering, you could contact the Royal College of Psychiatrists, or visit their website. Alternatively, call the Community Support and Listening Line.
  • If you think it is getting really bad, suggest they go and see their GP, who are trained and used to people talking to them about mental health. In the countryside people sometimes think that their GP is not used to talking about such things, but they are just as likely to as GPs in towns.

We need to talk more about it

Critically, those involved in the farming community, especially farmers themselves, need to talk about mental health issues and to continue the fight against the perceived stigma. Support is available and everybody understands (or at least should understand!) how stressful a job like farming is, and how easily one can fall into depression.

As part of the process, I would really appreciate if you could spread the word on social media with a message in support of farmers who suffer from mental health, using the hashtag #FarmerMentalHealth and perhaps consider making a donation to The Farming Community Network through their JustGiving Page. Alternatively, donate to Papyrus through their Just Giving Page.

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