UK Farmers Open Up About Depression and Mental Health

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Feb 12, 2019

UK Farmers Open Up About Depression and Mental Health

New ‘Mind Your Head’ campaign from the Farm Safety Foundation aims to raise awareness of the mental health issues faced by farmers and agricultural workers

On Monday 11 February, the Farm Safety Foundation launches its latest campaign, ‘Mind Your Head’. In their new video, the foundation highlights many of the issues faced by farmers around the UK, sharing ways in which we can provide help and support for those who need it the most.

The video features farmers opening up about their own experiences with depression and mental ill health. As the conversation around mental health and wellbeing becoming more and more common in the UK, an estimated one in four of us will experience at least one diagnosable mental health condition during our lifetime. For those working within the farming and agricultural industry, mental health issues continue to be a cause for concern.

According to the latest statistics, 81% of farmers aged 40 and under believe that mental ill health is the biggest hidden problem faced by farmers today. An overwhelming 92% of farmers believe that promoting good mental health is crucial in the battle to keep farmers safe and save lives.

Stress, depression and anxiety have been identified by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as amongst the main causes of work-related ill health. With the overall illness rate for agricultural workers sitting at 46% higher than the industry average, they are at risk particularly from ill mental health caused by stress, anxiety and depression, as well as physical health concerns including musculoskeletal disorders and lung disease.

Agricultural workers face a number of mental health risk factors. Working long hours often in isolation, farmers can also be under significant financial pressure. Often taking on significant debt just to purchase land and the equipment required to operate, many cannot easily get away from their overwhelming workload as they live and work on the same land. With additional stressors from bad weather and natural disasters to major uncertainties like Brexit, many of the events that can seriously affect their livlihoods are out of their control.

One supporter of the campaign, Jonathan Glen, a young farmer and student at Harper Adams University, shared his own experience with ill mental health. At the age of 18, Jonathan left his home, family and friends to travel to New Zealand to work on a 200-hectare dairy farm managing a herd of 600.

Within weeks, at the height of milk production, Jonathan found himself left in charge of the herd. He soon realised he was experiencing depression, his situation only compounded by the isolation he felt on a farm in the middle of nowhere with no family or close friends nearby.

Thankfully, Jonathan was able to recognise his symptoms as similar to those experienced by a friend who showed him there was a way to deal with depression through self-help and talking to others. “Mental health in agriculture matters. Having had my own battle with mental health while farming, I appreciate the seriousness of the cause.”

Stephanie Berkeley, who leads the Farm Safety Foundation said: “Last year’s campaign was welcomed by the farming community but one thing has become evident, farmer health and wellbeing cannot, and should not, be ignored - by any of us. Simply pretending the issue does not exist or has no impact on the industry is not acceptable.

“This year we are mounting the week-long campaign in the run-up to one of the biggest and possibly most stressful events facing the industry – Brexit. In previous times of stress such as the BSE crisis in 1986 and the outbreak of Foot and Mouth in 2001, there was a sharp increase in the number of farmer suicides as farm incomes declined. Learning from past experiences we need to be prepared to support our farmers through this time and this is what we are great at, as an industry.

“This Mind Your Head, we will continue to raise awareness of what the next generation consider the ‘biggest hidden problem’ in the industry and highlight the help available. This year we will also put a special focus on building personal resilience for farmers at this critical time. As an industry, we have a collective responsibility to do something about the issue of poor mental health and the risk of suicide and we believe that every one of us has a role to play.”

Throughout the week, Farm Safety Foundation will be reminding farmers and families that help is available no matter how different, alone, or low they may feel. Bringing together key people, organisations, and other charities to raise awareness of the mounting issue the industry faces, whilst building a community of support and resources for those affected. Find out more on Yellow Wellies.

If you are worried about the safety or wellbeing of yourself of a loved one, please seek support as soon as possible.

The Farming Community Network (FCN) can be contacted 7am-11pm daily for confidential advice and guidance on 0300 111999. You can call Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and Ireland), email [email protected], or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch

If you’re struggling and need to talk, you may benefit from seeking professional support. Find an experienced counsellor or therapist near you by simply entering your location in the box below:

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