mental health in farming
‘We must break the mental health taboo in the farming sector’
With increased awareness surrounding mental health, the involvement of high profile names and campaigns and seemingly more discussion taking place, why is it that our farmers and rural workers are still among the workers most at risk from suicide?
“Running a business, as many farmers do, is hard work – ask anyone who works in this sector and they will tell you about the extensive challenges. Also take into consideration working mostly by yourself, long hours and the stresses of animal welfare or crop health, as well as operating in an unstable and uncertain market, and it’s easy to see why many farmers are on the edge.
Elizabeth Creed Consultancy, committee member of IOSH’s Rural Industries Group and TechIOSH member.
“I wonder, if these deaths were being caused by machinery incidents or accidents, would the reaction and call to action be more immediate and perhaps less of a taboo? Talking about mental health and how we’re feeling is still a tricky topic for most people, least of all those who are at times isolated due to location and still struggling with a lack of connectivity.
“What can we do as consultants or those working in the industry? One action we can take is encouraging conversations and signposting to organisations who can provide help. Another thing we can do is train ourselves in mental health – as we train ourselves in other health risks, we should train ourselves in recognising mental health risks.
“Yellow Wellies is just one example of an organisation which has been working hard to address mental health issues in the farming sector with campaigns such as #MindYourHead and from that the slogan: “It’s okay not to be okay” is widely used on social media. We can also promote Mental Health Fitness as part of on-farm visits, ensuring this message is conveyed to everyone on the farm – including administration staff, remembering that a farm office can be a lonely and isolating environment.
“Although the farming community is undoubtedly a tight knit one this itself can cause issues. Comparisons to what neighbours are doing, feeling as though you are falling behind in comparison to those who may have got their crops in the ground ahead of you or whose livestock may be performing better. Perhaps, as in other aspects of modern life, this is where the negative side of social media can appear, with people sharing their highlights rather than the reality.
“Farming presents a unique set of challenges, usually being family-run businesses with people put into positions of management or responsibility that they have either not gained experience in previously in another workplace or never received training for, with this all adding to the pressures felt.
“Others may feel they have no choice but to carry on the family business, even though they perhaps do not want a career in farming but do not want to tackle the conversation of winding the farm up with other family members.
“The grief of losing someone to suicide is complex and difficult and being experienced by too many families. Supporting people who have had to deal with this loss can be challenging and at times daunting, but we can all help make a difficult time a little easier by educating ourselves in using better language. For instance, the term “committing suicide” can be a difficult one to hear when you have lost a loved one or friend, as suicide hasn’t been a criminal offence since 1961. Instead, using phrases such as “died by suicide” can make talking about it a little less difficult.
“There are a range of organisations we use to help with our research and signpost people to. Samaritans, RABI, FCN and Mind all have great resources and there are now plenty of regional organisations in place too.
“In a world where we are constantly switched on and no one can really escape the demands of work, spending 30 minutes running around the beautiful countryside our farmers are acting as custodians over is as close to a tonic to modern life I can recommend. By taking this passion for running with me on client visits, I’m pleased to say there are a few more legs clocking up the miles.”
By Elizabeth Creed, Elizabeth Creed Consultancy, committee member of IOSH’s Rural Industries Group and TechIOSH member.
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