The tide is turning on mental health.
According to Clodagh Crowe of Rural Support; “It’s about time, we would say here in Northern Ireland, where we have the highest prevalence of mental illness in the UK and where last month hundreds of high-profile figures backed a campaign declaring a public health emergency on suicide.”
Indeed, clients engaging Rural Support’s help have mental well-being indicators which are around 40% lower than the population average and this is most often linked to pressures relating to the farm business. For over three years we have been living with the uncertainty of the implications of Brexit which is going to disproportionately affect farmers in Northern Ireland. In that same time, we have had an absence of a government and the vacuum of leadership has contributed to many factors which have resulted in what has felt here like a downward spiral in relation to mental health.
I believe getting to the root cause of our mental health problems is key and that is closely linked with a need to take responsibility for ourselves. To recognise when things are going wrong and ASK FOR HELP. Of course, factors influencing mental health are complex and often interconnected with external influences but if we start with what is within our control, we can build our resilience.
Just as we all have a physical health that we need to look after, we have a mental health which requires the same attention. Contrary to the statistics which say 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue each year, I would argue that this is 4 in 4. We ALL experience mental health challenges, just the same as physical health challenges but it’s how we recognise and rise to the challenges that makes the difference. We should start to ask ourselves, how can I look after myself better?
Farmers navigate lots of external influences such as debt, increasing paperwork, disease, inspections, market volatility as well as family commitments but many would admit that looking after themselves is not as high as it should be on their long list of priorities.
To help address this, Rural Support is currently delivering workshops across Northern Ireland under CAFRE’s Farm Family Key Skills Programme entitled, Coping with the Pressures of Farming. These workshops focus on how to recognise the symptoms of excessive stress, explore ways to build resilience, develop strong mental fitness and learn about how to access specialist support when it is needed. Participants also learn the best way to support friends and neighbours who may also be experiencing challenges.
The workshops are the first of their kind to be delivered widely to the farming community and the feedback has been tremendously positive, with many farmers telling us it’s about time the subject of mental health is being tackled in this way. Undoubtedly, we still have a way to go to address the stigma around mental health in the farming community, but progress is being made.
This winter has been extremely busy, with calls to the Rural Support helpline from farmers from all sectors and demand for our on-farm business support service requiring our mentors to support farm families with issues of increasing complexity. We are however seeing clients engaging support at an earlier stage so our message to ASK FOR HELP is beginning to infiltrate. As we welcome our new Chief Executive, Veronica Morris, to the team, Rural Support will continue to strive towards its vision of a vibrant, healthy and resilient farming community in Northern Ireland.
Rural Support has worked with HSENI and the NI Farm Safety Partnership to publish a special Coping With The Pressures of Farming resource which can be DOWNLOADED HERE
The charity provides a helpline and support services for farmers and farm families in Northern Ireland. Its helpline (0800 138 1678) is available 9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday (voicemail and support options available at all other times).
To find out more about Rural Support visit www.ruralsupport.org.uk