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Industry groups raise concerns over farmer well-being as pandemic continues

25 June 2020

Mart closures and show cancellations will impact farmers' mental health and well-being.

Agricultural charities are expecting an increase in calls from farmers dealing with mental health challenges as the closure of auction marts, pubs and cancellations of summer shows add to the isolation already seen in rural communities.

Although the Coronavirus pandemic has not yet resulted in an increase in calls, it is expected peak as farmers inability to escape the farm adds to their pressures.

Speaking on The Milk Digest Podcast, Stephanie Berkeley from the Farm Safety Foundation explained how a limited ability for farmers to escape the farm this summer, due to COVID-19 restrictions, could yield an increase in mental health problems.

She said: “When the sources and circles of the community are not there that is when we will start to see farmers struggling. They have been through lambing, calving, silaging, and will be moving onto harvest, but where is their outlet?”

She encouraged farmers to take some time off the farm to protect their own mental well-being even if it was just an hour to go for a walk.

She also encouraged farmers to get to grips with their mental health threshold.

She said: “People should really start to look at what they can deal with and know their limits and what might bring them to the point to push them over the edge. Knowing this and realising the signs and symptoms are important.”

She said if anyone has symptoms of depression for two weeks or more then it is important, they contact their GP for a clinical diagnosis.

Symptoms include:

  • Loss of confidence
  • Guilt-ridden
  • Withdrawn
  • Tearful
  • No motivation
  • Disinterest in things you would usually like
  • Irritable
  • No enjoyment out of life

Ms Berkeley added: “It’s important to remember mental health is not just about depression. Bulimia, anorexia and OCD are all mental health conditions.”

Speaking on The Milk Digest, dairy farmer Peter Hynes, County Cork, emphasised the importance of farmers taking time away from the farm.

He first struggled with mental health 30 years ago and says it is something he has learned to cope with.

“It isn’t ever something you recover from, but you learn the coping mechanism. It is vital you take time off the farm, even if that is an hour to go out for breakfast somewhere. It is also important to understand you can’t take on every challenge yourself.”

Both Ms Berkeley and Mr Hynes encourage farmers to reach out through outlets such as their GP, farming charities like the Farming Community Network, social media, their local NFU, the Samaritans or through family and friends.

Ms Berkeley added; “There is a lot of practical advice and support. Farmers are also very good at supporting each other.”

Information from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found 83 people who worked in agriculture in England and Wales in 2018 took their own life. Globally, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives according to the World Health Organisation.

For more information on mental health and where to get help go to the RABI website



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