Your mental health is an important part of your wellbeing. This aspect of your welfare determines how you’re able to operate psychologically, emotionally, and socially. Considering how much of a role it plays in each aspect of your life, it’s important to guard and improve your wellbeing and evidence suggests that one of the steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing is to keep learning…
According to the NHS, research shows that learning new skills can improve your mental wellbeing by:
- boosting self-confidence and raising self-esteem
- helping you to build a sense of purpose
- helping you to connect with others
So, in an industry where many feel like they do not have enough time or feel like they don’t need to learn new things, there are different ways to bring learning into your life.
One person who used her own experience to encourage the next generation of farmers to learn about their mental health is Claire Worden, a farmer’s daughter from Cornwall. Claire was former National Chair of NFYFC and created the Rural Plus curve module nine years ago which paved the way for campaigns, conversations and our recently launched Minding Your Head curve module for older NFYFC members to build on the skills they are introduced to in the Rural Plus training.
We spoke to Claire about her own experiences with farming, mental health and her pride in leading the way in mental health learning.
Claire spent her teenage years working with her father on the family farm when she wasn’t in school or playing hockey. The farm had domestic pigs, sheep, beef and diversified into Wild Boar in the mid-late 1990’s. At the peak, they had nearly 2,000 wild boar which took roughly four hours to feed. She had been involved in Young Farmers Clubs since the age of 16 and still remains in an advisory role with her local Club Lostwithiel.
The topic of mental health has always been important to Claire as she explains: “Over 20 years ago, the industry was shaken by Foot & Mouth. We weren’t affected directly but there was a suspected case next door which had a huge impact on the family business and ultimately lead my parents to make the toughest decision and sell the farm.
“Everyone in the industry knows how hard dealing with a disease in livestock can be. It’s even worse when it’s completely out of your control. Ten years after living through Foot & Mouth, and having made some incredibly tough decisions afterwards, my Dad made an attempt on his life. Thankfully is still here today but, for 10 years, he refused to talk about what happened the day our pigs were culled.
“The children were sent away for the day. We weren’t allowed to be around it and no one spoke to us about it. Dad just tried to carry on and keep a smile on his face for everyone. But underneath he was letting everything bottle-up.”
Claire understands first-hand what it’s like to live through a life-changing experience, to be part of a family who made a difficult decision, and she understands how it feels to watch a loved one struggle and not want to speak a word.
As part of one of the hardest industries to work in, Claire believes that the many unique stressors the industry faces, make it essential that those living and working in farming look after their physical and mental wellbeing better.
She says: “Mental health and physical health has, and will always be, a challenge for the industry. Farmers are always the last to look after themselves, putting everyone and everything ahead of themselves. The industry has a very poor record of actually accepting the term ‘mental health’ as something that should be spoken about. I do feel, thankfully, that in recent years there has been a significant shift towards recognising the term and more willingness to share with each other. I get goosebumps when I think of all the amazing charities there now are, campaigns, and businesses who are delivering impactful messages to the industry that it’s ok not to feel ok, and it’s more than ok to talk to someone about it.
As someone who has led the way in delivering these impactful messages, Claire is very clear about what her aims were when she created the NFYFC Rural Plus curve module nine years ago:
“My sole aim with Rural Plus was to raise awareness of mental health and get all Young Farmers Clubs in England & Wales talking about the topic. I know from the experience with my dad that there was little support for the wider family of a patient who had made such a decision in their life. If it hadn’t been for my YFC and the strong rural community locally, I would never have got through that time in my life so confidently.
“I wanted to shout about how amazing and valuable the support of a YFC can be and farming charities such as the Farming Community Network. I wanted clubs to re-evaluate their roles within their communities and understand how valuable they are to their members. I thought; if I can help one member to talk and be helped as much as I was, then I will achieve my goal.
“I also wanted to ensure that each club member had the confidence to signpost for further support. There are many fantastic farming charities out there. I picked FCN to work with as they had supported my family and because they walk with the person through the difficult time and don’t just find them advice or give financial support. I wanted to create links between YFCs and local farming charities around the country to ensure that YFC members and their local communities were connected if the need for support was to ever arise.”
We asked Claire if she has any advice for someone who may be reading this and struggling right now? She reassures readers that you are not alone, and it’s perfectly normal to feel the way you are feeling.
She says: “What comes next is the hard bit. Find someone to talk to, be it a farming charity, a friend, a colleague, your tanker driver or a rep who stops by for a coffee and catch up…
“Everyone that I have ever know who has struggled – Dad included – have said that opening up little and often is what helped them. Many have not needed anything more than to share problems to then find their own solutions. For others initial conversations lead to support from a farming charity or friend. But every time it always starts with talking.
She concludes: “One thing I have learnt is that there is always someone else in a similar situation and, by talking and sharing, you might have the opportunity to help, not just yourself, but someone else also who was not as brave as you to start the conversation.
The Rural Plus curve module and the older member Minding Your Head curve module are available on request from Natasha Dennis at National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs HERE NFYFC-The Curve or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org