Farming Minister George Eustice urges farmers to reach out over mental health

Farming Minister George Eustice said nobody should feel alone if they face problems. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Farming Minister George Eustice said nobody should feel alone if they face problems. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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Farmers’ mental health can often suffer from the weight of generations of commitment to their land, the Farming Minister George Eustice said.

Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post about the mental and emotional strain on farmers during Mental Health Awareness Week, Mr Eustice said that the Government is addressing the issue through investment in, and setting ambitious targets for, the country’s mental health services.

As we reported on Monday, the increasingly isolated nature of farming is leaving rural communities vulnerable to mounting health and wellbeing concerns, yet there remains a stigma attached to seeking help when mental health suffers.

The increased mechanisation seen in agriculture over recent decades, shrinking teams of workers on farms and the pursuit of work away from the farm by other family members is leaving many farmers with no one to turn to.

Read more: Generational gap exists in tackling farming’s mental health stigma

Compounding the situation, such are the demands of their way of life and their day to day responsibilities, farmers are left with few opportunities to spend time away from the farm.

Despite these circumstances, farming support charities have told of how a generational gap exists in getting members of the farming community to open up and seek support when their mental health is suffering from carrying the strain alone.

While younger generations are now growing more accustomed to talking about their problems, it is the older generations that charities said were still proving very difficult to reach.

Read more: Farm charities’ wellbeing support ‘completely crucial’ ahead of Brexit changes

Sally Conner, the Yorkshire region’s manager of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), said it was “that awful thing of pride” that stopped farmers talking about their problems - a tendency that was acknowledged by the Farming Minister.

Mr Eustice said: “Farmers take great pride in what they do and often feel the weight of generations of commitment to their land.

“Farming can also be a solitary job, but nobody should feel alone if they face problems.”

According to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), there is more that the farming community can do to support better wellbeing in their local areas. Laurie Norris, the union’s North Riding county adviser, urged NFU members to organise more social events in order to encourage farmers to get together and benefit from chatting to their peers.

Read more: Value of getting off the farm cannot be underestimated in mental health battle

Mr Eustice said the Government was attempting to address mental health in the community at large.

“The Government spent more than £11bn on mental health last year and will be creating over 20,000 new mental health posts by 2021,” he said.

Mr Eustice also recognised that there is support at hand for farming families who are going through a hard time.

He said: “There are many voluntary organisations like the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and the Farming Community Network who provide help and support for farming families.”

RABI’s Ms Conner said she was delighted that Mr Eustice had acknowledged the need for more government spending on mental health, but she added: “My concern is that there will be an equal concentration on rural communities as well as urban ones.

“If there is a definite increase in mental health workers in the countryside, the NHS will have more capacity to deal with this really important topic, making our farmers more able to contact the right person and to obtain the correct amount of support.

“This doesn’t mean that the need for our farming charities the RABI and the FCN will decrease, it will just mean that there is all the appropriate support available.”

Stress has been cited by the NFU as being a key factor in the number of on-farm accidents. On average there are 32 deaths annually in the UK.

Between 2011 and 2015 there were also 339 suicides of people aged between 20 and 64 who worked in skilled agricultural or related trades, including 65 farmers and 59 farm workers.