Event to tackle farming’s mental health taboo

Members of the farming community are being urged not to suffer in silence. Picture by James Hardisty.
Members of the farming community are being urged not to suffer in silence. Picture by James Hardisty.
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A passionate determination to smash one of the countryside’s most enduring taboos has been voiced by the organisers of an open event, which has been arranged to tackle head-on the notion that staying silent is the only option.

Rather than plough one’s own furrow when the going weighs overwhelmingly heavy, individuals within the agricultural industry are hoping to change their peers’ perceptions of how they can deal with their problems.

Sally Conner, regional manager of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.

Sally Conner, regional manager of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.

For years, farming support charities have operated helplines for members of rural communities so that they do not feel they have to find ways to cope with the stresses and pressures of living and working in the countryside alone.

But there is a conscious awareness that too few in farming still feel as though talking about their troubles is an avenue for them.

According to the Office of National Statistics, the risk of suicide for males working in agriculture is almost twice as high as the national average.

The Mental Health Foundation report that suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years in the UK and is considerably higher in men, with nearly four times as many men dying as a result of suicide compared to women. Those at highest risk, however, are men aged 45-59.

Everyone has mental health, it’s what state it’s in, just like physical health. It’s knocking down that boundary.

Elizabeth Asquith, customer services adviser at NFU Mutual

One reason that men are more likely to commit suicide is because they are less likely than women to ask for help or talk about depressive or suicidal feelings, the Foundation said.

To encourage more people within farming - both male and female - to seek help when they are feeling low, and to deal with their feelings before they can develop further, a social event entitled ‘Farming Health & Wellbeing - Addressing the elephant in the room’ has been arranged by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and rural insurer NFU Mutual with support from the Yorkshire Rural Support Network and The Farming Community Network (FCN). It takes place at Grinkle Park Hotel, Grinkle Lane, Eastrington on Thursday, June 22, convening at 7pm for a 7.30pm start.

Sally Conner, regional manager of the R.A.B.I. farming charity, and Nuffield scholar, Aarun Naik, are the guest speakers and there will be a raffle in aid of The FCN.

One of the event’s chief organisers, Elizabeth Asquith, a customer services adviser at NFU Mutual’s Whitby branch, explained what she hoped to achieve from the evening.

Kate Dale, co-ordinator of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network.

Kate Dale, co-ordinator of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network.

“We want to demonstrate a ‘good to talk’ message, that it’s okay not to be okay,” she said.

“If you don’t feel you can talk to loved ones or friends, there are other support mechanisms out there to turn to.

“It’s something that’s been a taboo subject in the past and it’s not something that needs to be in the future. It’s something we want to promote positively. It’s about breaking down those stigmas that have been there in the past.

“Years ago, farming was quite a communal industry based around men instead of machines, now it’s the other way round and it can be an isolated environment sometimes.

“Farming has been a struggling industry recently. There are a lot of reasons and triggers for people to feel overwhelmed. It’s a big old countryside out there and people working with nature is great to help with these things but talking to people is imperative and it’s an all-too-easy habit not to see people from day to day, week to week, if you farm in an isolated area to talk about things with.

“Everyone has mental health, it’s what state it’s in, just like physical health. It’s knocking down that boundary. Whether you can see it or not, it’s still there.”

The Yorkshire Rural Support Network, established by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, runs farmer health checks, lunches and specific ‘Women in Farming’ events to bring the farming community together to discuss pressing issues.

Kate Dale, the network’s co-ordinator, said: “What we are trying to do is help farmers address the problem as early as possible before it becomes insurmountable. It is vital that people know they are supported and they are not alone.

“We are fortunate that we have a strong support mechanism for the farming community in Yorkshire, but it can be really difficult to give help until someone is ready to help themselves.”

Sally Conner, of R.A.B.I., believes the role of social events for farmers should not be underestimated.

“The (historic) demise of the Yorkshire (livestock auction) marts and places where farmers can go to speak as a social group is a concern and people need to be aware of the importance of putting on events for farmers,” she said.

“I think the vital thing is getting groups of farmers together to talk to each other.”

WHERE TO TURN

A number of charities, some specifically for the farming community, operate helplines so that there is someone to turn to 24 hours a day.

FCN helpline 03000 111 999, 7am-11pm daily.

R.A.B.I. helpline 0808 2819490, Mon-Thurs 9am-5pm, Fri 8.30am-4.30pm

Samaritans, 24 hours a day all year round, 116 123.

SANEline helpline, 6–11pm all year round, 0300 304 7000.

To reserve a free place at the ‘Farming Health & Wellbeing - Addressing the elephant in the room’ event on June 22, call Elizabeth Asquith on 01947 603550.