Farmers and mental health; why they need our support and focus
Updated: Jan 27
Last Sunday I happened to turn on the TV just as a report about mental health in the farming community was being aired.
The weekly, Sunday evening programme, Countryfile detailed the terrible problems that the farming community are facing regarding their mental health and well-being.
I was aware that mental health issues were a problem amongst farmers because I've discussed this topic with my farmer friends, but it was not until I read the statistics that the true scale of the problem presented itself.
The figures for death by suicide in farming are absolutely horrifying; On average one farmer a week takes his or her own life in the U.K alone. In France, a farmer dies an average of every two days, which is even more distressing and worrying.
It has been calculated that upwards of 1000 farmers have taken their own lives in the last nine years in the U.K.
It is clearly time to take action through education and support, as well as, suicide awareness and prevention programmes, focusing heavily on farmers and making sure resources of information and education are made as accessible and available to them as possible.
Since the programme, I have been unable to stop contemplating the issues surrounding farmers and these worryingly high death rates. I feel compelled to help, especially since I have friends in the industry and am involved in countryside pursuits and sports.
The irony regarding farmers and mental health is that we are told constantly by the media to, 'get outside in the fresh air,' and that being in nature, exercising and working with animals are all good for our mental health.
This may be true for some but I worked with horses and was a fit and healthy athlete who was outside constantly, yet I still suffered from terrible depression and the same is true for farmers. We need real strategies, tips and advice from people who have been there now, not just 'plasters' that do nothing for those in serious mental crisis.
The reasons behind the high numbers of mental health issues that farmers are facing are extensive.
They work alone a lot of the time, never get any time off, are under pressure financially to maintain buildings and animals, they're constantly battling the elements, and then there's the physical exhaustion added on top.
Currently farmers are also facing problems with major changes to agricultural policy leaving many unclear as to what they'll be paid to produce, add to this the pandemic's complications and it is clear that farmers are working under extremely pressured conditions.
But, I believe there is another reason that farmers in particular, get to the point where they see no way out and that's to do with societal norms, expectations and the values they're brought up with.
When you are raised in the countryside or you live on a farm it's instilled in you from a very young age that you keep going no matter what, that you don't complain, and that you basically 'get on with it', ‘hold your chin up,’ and keep a ‘stiff upper lip’.
It's a mentality that we've been brought up with, previously instilled in our parents and theirs before them which makes instructions like 'keep going regardless' not translate very well to debilitating mental illness.
Each time I've had an episode of depression I've had to listen to myself and stop everything, even though the advice from others, although well intentioned, has always been to keep going - I think because they imagined that having things to do would take my mind off it somehow!
This is completely untrue and I stand by my advice of 'stop everything' because if you don't you are putting your life in serious jeopardy.
Fortunately, we now have more people with lived experience of mental illness, speaking up in an attempt to educate others. Countryfile acknowledged this in an interview with a Northamptonshire farmer's wife who experienced problems after the birth of her second son.
Milly Fyfe explains that the combination of sleep depravation and pressures of farming life left her feeling completely disconnected. After seeking help and recovering she decided to set up an online farming forum called, 'Home on the Farm' which focuses on supporting the farming community with everything from caring for older relatives to home-schooling.
I'm always delighted when someone uses their own experiences of mental health to help others; it's just so important because we're the only ones who know the true horror, how to combat the illness, survive it and then fully recover.
The report on Countryfile also included a video with a young film maker who recognised the extent of the problem in the farming community after a conversation with a farmer. He subsequently decided to make a documentary about it to raise awareness as well as offer some insight into the plight of those in the farming community.
Archie Guinchard's documentary 'Under the Soil' covers the lives and experiences of three farmers, highlighting the difficulties and problems regarding their mental health. The documentary is available on Amazon Prime and you can find it here.
I have only had a chance to watch the trailer of the film but once I have watched the full documentary I will be discussing it in a future post.
I want to revisit mental health and farming because there is just so much to cover and it is such an important area of focus, considering the terrible tragedies and statistics.
If you are a farmer, or worried about someone in the farming community, and you would like access to information and support, I have added a page which gives several charity and organisational links for mental health which you can find here.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,