More needs to be done to celebrate the work of farmers and stop feelings of isolation and loneliness new survey finds

Long hours, working alone and feeling undervalued are the key factors causing loneliness within the farming community, a new study has shown.

The survey by FCN and the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research carried out the survey into loneliness.

The farming support charity, The Farming Community Network (FCN), has been working with the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research (CRPR) to find out why farmers and farming families can feel isolated and lonely.

The research, carried out by Dr Rebecca Wheeler and Professor Matt Lobley, from the CRPR, along with Dr Jude McCann, inset, and Alex Phillimore, from the FCN, found loneliness was also linked to mental health problems including depression and anxiety.

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“Farmers are currently facing a multitude of challenges and many told us about how they are struggling to find the time to socialise or take a break from the stresses of the occupation,” said Dr Wheeler.

She claimed more needs to be done to highlight the work farmers do producing food and managing the countryside, and added: “Farming can be a lonely life for both farmers and their families and negative views of farming among the public can exacerbate feelings of isolation further. We need to do more to celebrate their work and support them in making positive changes where needed.”

Poor rural broadband and transport connections were found to be a contributing factor to the sense of isolation felt by the farmers, family members and farm support practitioners who took part in the study.

A feeling that the public has a limited understanding of farming and the array of challenges farmers face in producing food and managing the countryside were also contributing factors.

But the study also found farmers are keen to highlight the “vital role” they play in producing food, and the positive actions they are taking to care for and improve the environment, but felt this work was “often overlooked” in stories about agriculture and issues such as climate change. Dr Jude McCann, the CEO of FCN, said there needed to be a culture change in farming and finding a positive ‘farm-life’ balance.

Dr McCann said: “Farmers told us they are expected to be strong and resilient and that admitting they are struggling and need help would be an admission of failure, of somehow not being a ‘good farmer’. This prevented people seeking help for loneliness and related mental health issues.

“Participants also spoke about a culture within their families of not discussing mental health, linked in part to wider taboos about the issue within the farming industry.

“There is a need for a culture change in farming that not only permits farmers to feel they can take a break from work without fear of judgement, but actively promotes it as an essential part of successfully managing a farm business.

“Taking a break from the farm is not a waste of time. The truth is, it’s one of the most productive things you can do.”