Promoting Farmer Mental Health – a Farm Advisory perspective

In this blog, Dr John McNamara, Health and Safety Specialist Advisor for Teagasc – Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Ireland outlines the importance of promoting farmer health, managing stress and adopting prositive strategies to cope with the pressures of farming…

Dr John G McNamara, Teagasc

“My role of a Specialist Advisor in farm health and safety, is to develop and lead our Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) programme, be a knowledge focal point and in this regard, I conduct research with colleagues on farm health and safety and scan the scientific literature for useful information to inform Teagasc knowledge transfer programmes in OHS . My role includes providing and arranging staff inservice training in health and safety.

Teagasc collaborates strongly with both state and farming organisations regarding its programme. In my role, I collaborate strongly with the Irish Health and Safety Authority responsible of overseeing occupational safety and health ( OHS) legislation. I am a member of the national ENGAGE Men’s Health Promotion training network.

Farmer Health
I became particularly interested in promoting farmer health following a lecture by a public health physician in the early 1990’s which indicated that Irish farmers had higher premature mortality for a range of non-communicable disease s such as CVD and Cancers than other occupational groups. There is a mis perception that farmers are healthy ‘ per se’ because they are ‘out in the fresh air and get plenty of exercise. More recently in 2012, Dr Breda Smyth MD published research which indicates that Irish farmers have 5 time higher CVD and 3 times more Cancers than blue collar workers.

Maintaining health requires a range of actions so Teagasc with partners produced and circulated nationally two health promoting booklets: Coping with the Pressures of Farming’ and ‘A Health Booklet for Irish Farmers – Staying Fit for Farming’.

A crucial message is to have a healthcheck undertaken regularly. If a person does’nt have the habit of visiting a doctor regularly, they are unlikely to visit when under stress.

Managing Stress
Major farm stressors include: farm finance issues ; dealing with paperwork, poor farm safety conditions, excessive workload and poor health. Signs of stress include, irritability and disturbed sleep pattern. Stress is managed by recognising the signs and taking action to remove the sources. For example, stress can be cut by modifying farm work to cut work time. Having positive working and personal relationships is helpful to prevent stress. Consult your G.P regarding stress issues where necessary.

Positive Strategies:

Social Involvement is crucial.
– Talk to trusted family members, neighbour and friends.
– Discuss farming problems with your Agricultural Advisor.
– Farm Discussion groups have a social dimension as well as a practical farm one which is positive to solving problems and managing stress.
– Farming and sporting organisations perform valuable social networks in rural Ireland.

Health related goals.
– Have a regular health check-up with a G.P. Forming this habit is crucial in the long- term.
– Exercise regularly; being physically active is a key approach to stress management. Farm work activity, however, may lead to ‘strength’ but not to ‘aerobic fitness’ which is required for cardiovascular health.
– Eat a balanced diet, including fruit and vegetables. Some foods in excess such as alcohol, chocolate, coffee and soft drink cause increased tension.

– Examine your farm for hazards and remove them.
– Work organisation is crucial to avoid rushing and injury.
– Examine the profitability of your farm-complete a profit monitor.
– Check the length of your working day – excessively long working days can lead to isolation.

– Take time out every day for relaxation.
– Take regular breaks and a holiday from farming. These allow your mind to refresh itself.

Services Available in Ireland.
• Consult your G.P. regularly.
• Teagasc and Farm Consultants are available to farmers nationally to advice on farm management issues. Farming organisations offer services to their members
• A range of both Local and National Support Groups are available.
• The Samaritans can be contacted at 1850 60 90 90. Their website gives a list of support agencies.
• St Patrick’s University Hospital, Dublin provides a Support & Information Service staffed by experienced mental health nurses 9-5 Monday to Friday with an answering and call-back facility outside hours. You can contact the Support & Information service by calling 01 249 3333

Further information:
The following booklets can be downloaded here

Staying Fit for Farming – A Health Booklet for Farmers’
Coping with the Pressures of Farming  
Positive Mental Health in Farming


Dr John McNamara works as National Farm Health and Safety Specialist Advisor with Teagasc , the Agriculture and Food Development Authority. Teagasc provides Research , Advisory and Training services to support development of the Irish Farming Sector. Teagasc has about 250 researchers, 75 specialist advisors, 300 advisors and 60 trainers involved in advisory and training activities. Teagasc communicates through the media and with its publications and social media with about 80% of the farming population.

The following paper can be obtained on the Web:
The Roles of Financial Threat, Social Support, Work Stress, and Mental Distress in Dairy Farmers’ Expectations of Injury.
Furey, E., O’Hora,D, McNamara, J., Kinsella, S., Noonc,C., (2016).

stephanie_berkeley_zl4u2oa9SOURCES OF SUPPORT – TEAGASC Ireland