A growing feeling that the farming community’s way of life is under threat is seriously undermining wellbeing in the countryside, according to the head of a mental health campaign.
Some 81 per cent of farmers under 40 believe mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today, a survey by the Farm Safety Foundation found.
Levels of depression in the industry are thought to be increasing and figures from the Office for National Statistics show that more than one agricultural worker a week in the UK dies by suicide.
Uncertainty about the future of farming post-Brexit has heightened concerns. During previous times of stress, such as the BSE crisis in 1986 and the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak, there was a sharp increase in farmer suicides as farm incomes declined.
Stephanie Berkeley, who leads the Farm Safety Foundation, said: “Learning from past experiences we need to be prepared to support our farmers through this time and this is what we are great at, as an industry.”
To encourage people in farming to seek the help they need and to offer their support to others, Ms Berkeley is co-ordinating the foundation’s Mind Your Head campaign this week.
Farming’s “unique” circumstances make mental health a hugely important topic that cannot be ignored, she said, and went on to explain: “Many farmers work on their own all day, live and work in the same environment so there is no escape for them, they are under financial pressure having taken out loans for stock or machinery and then they are hit by environmental events like the Beast from the East last year.
“There is a unique set of circumstances within farming. There are lots of different things that can impact the bottom line.
“We have the big ‘B’ here that is looming large and farmers just don’t know what’s going to happen. Then you’ve got anti-meat messages and it can make them feel that their way of life is under threat. The stresses are huge and most are out of their control which can add to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
“The important thing at this moment in time is looking out for everyone in the forthcoming weeks. We all have to realise that we have a collective responsibility to look after our mental health and that of others.”
Mindfulness is important to good mental health, she said, adding: “It’s about dealing with the present, getting perspective and choosing to get angry about something or not, as well as just enjoying the now and being grateful for everything you have got.”
The Yorkshire Rural Support Network held drop-in health checks for farmers at the Yorkshire Agricultural Machinery Show at York Auction Centre last week and Kate Dale, the network’s co-ordinator, said industry events like this are, in their own right, hugely important to farmers’ wellbeing.
“The early new year machinery shows have really filled a gap for many people at what can generally be a quieter time on farms.
“It’s not just about coming to look at the latest kit, it’s getting lots of opportunities on so many levels. It’s about getting together, talking and eating together, and taking time away from the farm,” she said.
For more information about the Mind Your Head campaign and for details of organisations that help farmers in crisis, see www.yellowwellies.org.