'Farming has work to do to prevent farming pressures becoming tragedies'

Attitudes need to change within the agricultural industry to tackle farmer suicides, an industry leader has warned.

Picture by James Hardisty.

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Contributing factors to suicide among the agricultural workforce must be understood by everyone in the industry and reflected in how people are treated, according to George Dunn, the chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association.

Agriculture has the worst rate of total fatalities among workers in all of the nation’s main industrial sectors, and the importance of mental wellbeing must not be overlooked amid a concerted drive to improve farm safety, the tenant farming boss said.

Mr Dunn said: “As well as thinking more about our physical safety, it is also important that we take into consideration the mental wellbeing of friends, colleagues and family members on farms.

“Death by suicide in agriculture is another major killer. Isolation, stress, anxiety, and depression are all contributing factors. We need to think about these things in the way we treat people as we carry out our various roles in the industry.”

He highlighted particular concerns over how tenant farmers are sometimes treated.

“It is too often the case that tenant farmers feel that landlords’ agents take an overly aggressive approach and spoil good working relationships with landlords,” said Mr Dunn, as he encouraged friends and families to look out for one another.

“Organisations like the Farming Community Network (FCN) and RABI (the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution) are great at what they do, but they are no substitute for the networks of close friends, colleagues and family members who can look out for and support one another through difficult times and, where appropriate, signpost to more specialist help.”

Helen Benson, the FCN’s Yorkshire co-ordinator, said every life taken by suicide is a tragedy and that farming charities provide a “lifeline service”.

“Considering support networks is essential in ensuring help is there when needed, and the farming charities are a vital part in this,” she said. “Being one step removed from the situation, being confidential and available at any time, is literally a lifeline in critical situations.

“Not everyone has family and friends to turn to and knowing that there is someone who cares, and is there, can be the turning point from a desperate situation to a manageable future.”

Rob Harris, RABI’s communications manager, also championed the role of charities, saying: “We provide tailored support to people of all ages from the farming community and believe we have a crucial role to play in helping people from our sector maintain good physical and mental health in the face of internal and external pressures.”

He said RABI was continuing to develop its services, adding: “Farming can be a 24/7 business and many in the industry work long hours in isolation in remote, rural areas. That’s why strong support networks are vital for good mental health, especially during stressful times.”

For RABI’s helpline call 0808 281 9490 and for FCN’s helpline, call 03000 111 999.