GUEST BLOG – Charles W Smith, Farming Community Network

Following our blog earlier this year about minding your head, this month, Charles W Smith, The Farming Community Network’s Chief Executive has agreed to write a few lines on the importance of mental wellbeing and highlight the fact that sometimes it’s okay not to be okay…

“When it comes to important farm safety equipment, people usually think of tractor roll bars, shedding gates for livestock and high-vis clothing. But there is another piece of kit, which when used properly, is even better – the mind.

It is very easy to underestimate just how important the mind is when it comes to farming. Along with the body, it is, without doubt, the best bit of kit a farmer can have.

The Farm Safety Foundation do amazing work in providing advice and resources about farm safety and encouraging farmers to take all relevant safety precautions before carrying out their work. However, if your mind and body are not well-maintained, as well as your machinery, it is very easy to become less conscious of the dangers around you.

But when you work in farming, maintaining a sound mind and positive mental wellbeing is not so simple.

Farming is a great profession, but it can also be a very stressful one. Even without the uncertainties of Brexit, farmers are regularly forced to deal with issues that are beyond their control, such as animal disease, fluctuating market prices and the weather. Furthermore, farming can be a very isolating and lonely occupation, with farm workers often spending long hours out in the field with little or no form of social interaction.

On top of their responsibilities on the farm, farmers also deal with issues in their personal life, such as relationship breakdowns, physical health problems and bereavement.
It is little wonder that farmers are so susceptible to poor mental wellbeing and that farming continues to have one of the highest rates of suicide of any occupation. In the UK, approximately one farmer a week dies by suicide.

How on earth can farmers maintain positive mental wellbeing when there are so many factors that prevent this from happening?

Well, simply talking to someone about your problems is often the first step to improving one’s mental wellbeing. But who can farmers talk to? Traditionally, farmers take great pride in their work and would never dare to disclose their thoughts and concerns with anyone – even their own friends and family. But what if, instead, they spoke to someone they didn’t know – someone they have no emotional attachment with, but who has a great understanding of what they are going through…

This is where the Farming Community Network (FCN) comes in.

For 22 years, FCN has been providing free, practical and pastoral support to farmers and families within the farming community.

Many of our 400+ volunteers are involved in farming and therefore have a great understanding of the issues farmers and farming families regularly face.

We run a national helpline which is open every day of the year from 7am-11pm, and all cases that come to FCN are treated confidentially and non-judgementally.

Of course, if you’re not quite ready for talking, there are some great resources for you to read that can help with your wellbeing, in particular, The Men’s Health Forum’s Fit For Farming booklet.

This easy-to-read handbook, which includes contributions from FCN, is full of hints and tips to help farmers stay focussed and help their mind and body run smoothly. It explains how little changes to one’s lifestyle and habits can make a huge difference. “Fit For Farming” also includes details on all the common occupational health concerns for UK farmers from ticks and insect stings to asbestos and tetanus.

But of course, irrespective of your state of mind or what measures you take to stay safe, accidents do happen. Being a farmer myself, I am all too aware of this and have had plenty of close shaves in the past!

It has been well-documented down the years just how dangerous farming can be. The most recent statistics show that agriculture accounts for 1.5% of workers but 15-20% of all worker fatalities.

At FCN, we are increasingly finding ourselves supporting people who have been affected by a farm accident, whether it be someone who has been seriously injured and unable to fulfil their duties on the farm, or a family who have lost a loved one. Farm accidents can have a devastating impact on both the farming family and farm business.
Our volunteers are on hand to support anyone who has been affected by a farm accident, in whatever way they can. Our volunteers will “walk with” them for as long as support is needed.”

Whatever your concern may be, please know that FCN is here for you. If you need someone to talk to, call the FCN helpline on 03000 111999, or email chris@fcn.org.uk. The helpline is open 7am-11pm every day of the year.

More information about FCN is available at www.fcn.org.uk.

stephanie_berkeley_zl4u2oa9GUEST BLOG – Charles W Smith, Farming Community Network