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

Laurie Norris, North Riding county adviser at the National Farmers' Union.
Laurie Norris, North Riding county adviser at the National Farmers' Union.
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The National Farmers’ Union is urging its grassroots members across Yorkshire to grasp at a renewed impetus in the industry to take action and improve wellbeing in their local farming communities.

Just organising workloads so that farmers can take valuable time to venture away from their own farm can contribute towards better mental health, said the union’s North Riding county adviser, Laurie Norris.

Greater opportunities between farmers for social interaction with one another on a more regular basis can bring health benefits, she said, and explained that the NFU is actively encouraging its members to organise the sort of events that will help bring farmers together.

“Farming is a really isolated role and farmers can be very much working in isolation,” she said. “People talk about the social benefits of attending auction marts but farmers are very much time pressured and don’t always have time to take those opportunities.

“But just getting away from the farm is a massive help and we are trying to encourage our members and branches to host more social activities to give people the opportunity to get off their farms and have a chat.”

Read more in a special series of reports on mental health in farming here

The NFU, together with the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and Barclays bank, hosted more than 100 professionals who work with farmers at a landmark ‘Taking the Strain’ conference at Harrogate’s Great Yorkshire Showground in March.

Following on from a similar event held by the NFU in Whitby last summer, it explored how those who come into regular contact with farmers can spot signs of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, how they can speak about the problem and where to signpost people for help and support.

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“We want our grassroots members to do more of this type of work,” Ms Norris said. “One of our members at the Taking the Strain event said we should get off the farm once a day, out of the parish once a week, out of the county once a month and out of the country once a year and that’s quite right.

“If you are stuck on the farm and don’t see anybody, you don’t get the opportunity to talk.”

Ms Norris said that support for farmers will be a pressing need in the coming years because new industry rules post-Brexit will impact upon the wellbeing of those who struggle to adapt.

“We are coming to a period of unprecedented change without a doubt and I think a lot of farmers are sticking their heads in the sand and thinking it will all come good.”

Read more in a special series of reports on mental health in farming here