Today marks the start of Mind Your Head, our brand new campaign focusing on mental wellbeing in the farming industry. Gina Fusco, Chair of Trustees of the Foundation, outlines the background to focusing on mental health and why this is so important in the context of farm safety…
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.
Levels of depression in the industry are thought to be increasing and suicide rates in agricultural workers are among the highest in any occupational group (ONS). At the Farm Safety Foundation, we know all too well that, in an industry with the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK, stress is often a key factor in many of the accidents, injuries and illnesses taking place on farms. Stress is something that many farmers face at some point and is an important contributor to mental health problems. It can come from many sources such as financial pressures resulting from market fluctuations, livestock disease or poor harvests, but concerns about Brexit, policies, administration and legislation can also take their toll.
The situation is compounded by the fact that farming tends to be an innately conservative culture and some still perceive a stigma attached to mental health. This can hinder people’s willingness to speak about the issue and to seek help for themselves.
This brand new campaign aims to encourage farmers and farming families not to neglect themselves, but to put themselves first, ‘open up’ and get some help and advice on whatever concerns they have.
We are lucky to have the support of someone who has made an extraordinary journey from the depths of depression to one of the most universally respected international rugby referees. Former president of the Wales Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, Nigel Owens, 46, from Carmarthenshire, is all too aware of how easily things can get out of hand when you don’t open up and you allow stress to take over your life.
In his mid-twenties, Nigel lacked self-esteem about the way he looked and he was ashamed about being homosexual. Coming from a small farming community, he did not want anyone to know and did not know where to turn. This led him down a dark path where he became addicted to steroids and suffered from bulimia. On one particular occasion he tried to commit suicide at the top of Bancyddraenen Mountain, overlooking the village he had lived in all his life, Mynyddcerrig. Thankfully, he didn’t succeed and he received help to get him mentally well.
According to Nigel; “The mind is a powerful tool which can be positive and helpful, as well as negative and destructive. From experience, if we don’t open up and talk about how we’re feeling and what we are struggling with, we can end up becoming anxious and depressed. I’m delighted to support the ‘Mind Your Head’ Campaign because the farming community need to know they are not alone and that there should be no taboo about asking for help.”
Over the week we will be bringing together key organisations in the industry to work together for this campaign in the hope that farmers and their families know where, when and how to seek help when they need it. Organisations such as the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, Rural Support and the Farming Community Network (FCN), a voluntary organisation providing pastoral and practical support for farmers and farming families, who are going through difficult times.
“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.”
Charles adds: “Talking to someone about your problems is often the first step to improving your mental wellbeing. But who? If not family or friends, then why not speak to someone you don’t know – someone you have no emotional attachment with, but who has a great understanding of what you may be going through?”
Our funders NFU Mutual are also giving us their full support for this initiative. According to Lindsay Sinclair, Group Chief Executive: “NFU Mutual has been closely connected to the countryside, farmers and their families for over a century.
As part of the very fabric of rural life, we know that the joy of the countryside can disguise a very difficult situation: rural isolation.
He added: “It is often assumed that elderly people are the worst affected by rural isolation, but we have found that under 25s can be just as vulnerable as over-65s. This can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health problems which can, in turn, increase the sense of loneliness. NFU Mutual is proud to support the Farm Safety Foundation in this #MindYourHead campaign, get people talking about something that can be seen as a taboo subject and signpost sources of help for all our members and those who live and work in our beautiful countryside.”
We believe that mental health is an issue that is very much at the heart of the farming community but one that few farmers feel comfortable discussing. The purpose of this campaign is to encourage conversations and address the stigma surrounding mental wellbeing. It’s about looking out for each other, reminding farmers to “Mind Your Head’ and letting them know that there are organisations out there who want to help. The pressures of farming aren’t going to disappear, so as a farmer you need resilience, smart strategies and specific skills to live well and farm well. The first step to improving your mental wellbeing can be as simple as talking to someone.
Throughout the week we will be sharing stories, blogs and research into the issue here and we will also be using @yellowwelliesUK on Twitter to spread the message. Please show your support for this very important campaign by following us and retweeting our content on both Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #MindYourHead