While Young Farmers’ Clubs are often described as a social lifeline, what happens when your problems run much deeper than not winning at the County Rally?
Living and working in a rural community can be isolating. Restricted travel, farming anxieties (for some) and few social opportunities can have a negative impact on rural young people’s mental wellbeing. Despite the advances in online communications through social media, Instagram and Snapchat stories can’t replace spending time ‘physically’ talking to people. And we all need to talk more. Sharing what’s on your mind is good for your mental health and especially so for those who can spend days working on the farm without seeing anyone.
For more than 86 years, Young Farmers’ Clubs have offered a social space for young people to escape the farm (or another daily grind), kick back with good friends and have a chat. The varied YFC programme offers relief from the routine and the chance to do something different with a group of people that the sheep shed or tractor cab just can’t offer.
Recognising the importance of its role in rural communities has been key to the development of Rural+. Launched in 2014, the awareness-raising session is delivered in clubs by YFC trainers and The Farming Community Network together with other rural support groups. The session can involve members of all ages as well as leaders and advisory members, which helps to spread the messages and support.
In Devon, the County has made it a priority this membership year to deliver the session to all 38 clubs. The commitment came after delivering the Farm Safety Foundation”s Farm Safe! Curve module last year to most of the County and discovering that mental health was cropping up a lot in the discussions. It was the right decision. Already, through our course feedback forms, we have found that a mental health issue has affected one in three of the County’s members.
Pressures of growing up are challenging enough, but often, in rural communities, they come with the additional stresses of rural isolation and farming.
Trainers have been addressing the ‘B’ word (Brexit) during the sessions too as the uncertainty of the outcome and after effects could be another contributing factor to someone’s mental health.
The session is delivered at a venue chosen by each club and addresses the stigmas associated with mental health and the range of issues that can affect people. Representatives from The Farming Community Network support the YFC Trainers and encourage the discussion and offer advice on where people can get support.
The fact the course is delivered by trained YFC peers is important as we’re all from rural backgrounds and in touch with members’ views. It also means we’re a recognisable face in case they have concerns about themselves or someone who is close to them.
It’s too early to assess the true impact the sessions are having on members but they are taking more care of each other and telling others that it’s okay to talk about mental health issues. That can only be a good thing.
If we can help normalise talking about mental health in rural communities, then that will be a huge achievement.
To find out how your YFC can book your Rural+ session please visit www.nfyfc.org.uk/Ruralplus/ruralplus