For the last 8 years, this month’s guest blogger Naomi Wright and her husband David have run a dairy farm near Kendal in Cumbria. Naomi doesn’t come from a farming background however she has a unique insight and understanding of the difficulties the farming industry faces. Having recently qualified as a psychotherapist, Naomi’s passion and respect for farmers offers her the confidence to help farmers with their mental health.
Naomi explains: “My years involved in the farming community have developed my understanding and appreciation of life in farming. I believe that farming and rural communities will benefit in so many ways from opening up conversations about emotions and mental health difficulties.
“They (farmers) know what it means to let down those they love for the sake of animals or crops. They carry that with them. They put their heart and soul into their farm. It is their everything…”
“No community or industry is immune from mental health issues. This one, in particular, is at high risk and the statistics show many are not coping. We can talk about starting the conversation and opening up can hopefully achieve it, but what happens once it’s been said? After that we need mechanisms to cope and manage on a daily basis and when times get tough.
“There is a brilliant sense of community amongst farmers and comradery is apparent: “We are all in this together”. Farmers get why other farmers struggle. My sense, however, is that whilst farmers will help each other out on a practical level…lending machinery or feed, and happily talk about the price of milk ‘til the cows come home (I couldn’t resist)… They don’t know what to say, how to say it and why it is so important to do so.
“They may think it’s embarrassing and half of the time they probably don’t want to open up a can of worms. Farmers are battling finances, the weather, a market dictated price and family dynamics amongst their personal baggage. What part of that would make you want to open a whole new conversation about mental health?
“We need to make it about them. I have learned that I have to sell an idea to farmers. In this case, a suicide statistic isn’t enough. It’s not enough for the rest of the population, never mind the busiest, most isolated and proudest community of all.
So how do we sell openness, vulnerability, self-care and maybe even therapy to them?
To start off with, there is increased efficiency/income, a happier life and potentially more young people wanting to join the industry. Then there is improved physical health, stress reduction, improved animal welfare, improved communication & relationships and a greater sense of community. The list goes on…
“So what do farmers need to be resilient, happier, more successful?
- Back up plans; support staff, contingency plans, diversification support. They need this to be able to take time off, cope when disasters happen and see a future beyond 16 hour working days for the next 60 years.
- Business and management training and support.
- Local support groups CLICK HERE
- Therapy – We can all benefit from therapy but for me it feels even more crucial within the isolation of farming. Contact with people outside your circle is few and far between unlike other industries, so a therapist fits perfectly as the impartial person who can offer a safe, separate and supportive environment which could make all the difference.
- Self-care – I honestly believe farmers need self-care to be a part of daily life. Many can’t take a sofa day, haven’t heard of a charcoal face mask and don’t have the time or energy for hobbies and holidays.
The modern-day idea of taking mental health days off work is impossible for farmers who don’t even take sick days when they’re vomiting, have flu or broken fingers! Regular emotional self-care for farmers looks to me something like this: regular scheduled time away from the farm, structured administration time, mental stimulation outside of farming for example listening to podcasts and regular contact with someone who they can share their worries with. Then there is physical self-care. Farming is hard on your body and I believe encouraging farmers to look after themselves physically is a huge factor in building their resilience. Furthermore, they are often sleep deprived, injured or just living with pain which adds to feeling stressed and depressed. Small changes like not missing dental/medical appointments, exercise away from the farm, rest, and scheduled early nights or lie ins can go a long way.
“Essentially I believe that if farmers can get in touch with their minds and bodies and truly begin to care for them, their lives will improve in every area.”
If you want to follow Naomi on social media her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram handle is @therapywithnaomi
Over the next three months, the Farm Safety Foundation, alongside Rural Support and Embrace FARM will be highlighting the issue of building farmer resilience in a series of three conferences. The first takes place this week at CAFRE in Northern Ireland, the second one will be next month in Portlaoise, Co Laois and we will be hosting the final conference at our funder NFU Mutual’s Head Office in Warwickshire. Keep a look out on our social channels for updates.