Whilst UK farmers are renowned for the attention they give to their livestock, crops and machinery, it appears they do not have such a good track record when it comes to taking care of themselves and their own wellbeing.
There are a number of mental health risk factors associated with agriculture. Farmers work long hours, often in isolation. They can be under significant financial pressure, often required to take on significant debt to purchase the land and equipment required to operate. And in most cases, a farmer’s place of business is also his or her home, meaning there is no easy way to get away from the workload. In addition, farmers are constantly vulnerable to unusual events and circumstances that can impact their bottom line — from weather and natural disasters to international trade disputes.
Our research revealed that four out of five young farmers (under 40) believe that mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today. In 2018 we launched a new campaign – Mind Your Head – to raise awareness of this growing issue in the industry and, since then, one thing has become evident; farmer health and wellbeing can not, and should not, be ignored – by any of us.
As an industry, we have a collective responsibility to do something about the issue of poor mental health and the risk of suicide and every one of us has a role to play. Increased understanding, and discussions around mental health will, in time, reduce the discrimination experienced by those who have mental health issues.
What do we mean by mental health?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. Mental health issues are a normal part of life. In any one year approximately one in four people experience eat least one mental health issue. Being in good mental health is therefore important to everyone and each one of us has a role to play by adopting approaches that help keep us in good health and build resilience for the pressures of life in agriculture.
Mental health, like physical health, can vary from day to day. Issues can appear as a result of experiences in both our personal and working lives – or they can just happen.
Stigma and discrimination are the two biggest obstacles to people talking about mental health in all walks of life. It takes great courage to talk about an intimate experience. There is always the risk of oversharing or making others feel uncomfortable. This is especially true when talking about mental health.
This long-standing stigma means that many people have a limited understanding of mental health. People still think that it’s shameful if they have mental ill health. They think it shows personal weakness, that they have failed. This self-inflicted stigma can make it difficult for people to speak about even their own mental health problems.
If there is one thing we have learned over the past few years of delivering Mind Your Head, that is that mental health issues do not discriminate; they can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, geography, income, social status, sexual orientation or other aspect of cultural identity. You might feel very happy to tell your workmates about a physical injury you’ve had, but when it comes to changes in your mental health, people can keep this to themselves through fear of being treated differently or judged.
It is important to create a culture in farming that promotes positive mental health, prevents people from experiencing mental ill health and helps them better manage mental health problems.
One of the key ways to do this is to ensure everyone can talk about mental health but it is also essential to know how to provide support. This might include knowing how to spot the warning signs and being confident to signpost colleagues to the support available.