Campaign helps farming communities tackle mental health challenges

Dave Higgens, PA

Farming communities have been urged to “look out for each other and to look after each other” amid mental health concerns.

The Farm Safety Foundation, known as Yellow Wellies, has been running its Mind Your Head campaign this week, highlighting dramatic figures surrounding mental health problems in the agriculture sector.

According to the foundation, 133 suicides were registered in England, Wales and Scotland in 2019 for those working in farming related trades.

And 88% of farmers under the age of 40 rank poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today and 89% of young farmers believe that talking about mental health in farming will remove any stigma attached to it.

The campaign has focused on prevention and early identification of risk factors associated with those living and working in the UK farming industry.

Stephanie Berkeley, manager of the Farm Safety Foundation, told the PA news agency: “I think it’s a bigger issue than we realised ourselves when we started talking about it.

“Four years ago we couldn’t even get one person to come forward and share their story with us.

“Since then, and since we started those conversations about mental well-being and actually getting people to start conversations with each other, we’ve had people approach us saying I was aware of that and actually recognised that in myself.

“So there are a lot more people that are sharing their stories.”

She said: “Farmers are fantastic people.

“The farming community are the people who put food on our plates every day.

“They’re fantastic at looking after their livestock, their land, and their machinery but the problem is that they put themselves quite far down that list.

“And that is what makes them wonderful (and) makes it quite frustrating to get them to actually put themselves first.”

Ms Berkeley said farmers’ issues were often exacerbated by the long periods spent by themselves, the cancellation of shows and other social events and even poor Wi-Fi in rural areas.

She said: “Our message to anybody out there who is struggling right now is to speak out and to speak up.

“What we want people to do is to look out for each other and to look after each other and just to ‘mind their head’.”

The fourth annual Mind Your Head campaign has aimed to illustrate actions being taken to break down mental health barriers in farming.

Young farmer Emily Bird, 24, whose family farm in Co. Durham, said talking about each other’s problems was the key.

She said: “That is something that probably should happen – a conversation to sit down and actually address problems.

“But that’s the typical thing with farmers, you just get on with it.

“There’s work to be done. You don’t have time to sit down and chat about important things. You get on with the day to day and carry on.

“I think definitely charities and campaigns like this have made me realise that actually sitting down and chatting is beneficial and worthwhile to do.”

Ms Bird said: “The advice people give in mental health to make you feel better is to spend more time outdoors, in nature, and to get away for a change of scenery.

“That’s ironic because people in the farming industry live and work outdoors and in nature and they can’t take a break and have a change of scenery.”

“So those things don’t help.”

For more information on the campaign visit  www.yellowwellies.org or @yellowwelliesUK on social media.

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