Rural Support Workshops Tackle Poor Mental Health Within the Farming Community

Mental health statistics in Northern Ireland are at best troubling and at worst devastating with the region having the highest levels of poor mental health and the highest rate of suicide in the UK.

Why is it that speaking out about mental health was, and in some quarters still is, deemed taboo? Surely just as we all have a physical health that we need to look after, we have a mental health which requires the same attention? This is a message that Rural Support, has been communicating far and wide over recent months and one that those in the farming community are hearing and heeding.

Farmers face various challenges in running their businesses, including financial difficulties, increasing levels of paperwork, animal disease, volatile markets; all whilst balancing life and family commitments. This, along with the continuing uncertainty in the sector has a clear negative impact on emotional and psychological well-being, on them and others in the family.

Looking after their mental health would not traditionally feature high up on a farmer’s list of priorities and there is no doubt that the consequences of poor mental health on the ability to farm productively and safely is all too often underestimated. Clients seeking help from Rural Support have mental well-being scores which are around 40% lower than the population average.

To help tackle this, between November and March Rural Support delivered nineteen ‘Coping with the Pressures of Farming’ workshops across Northern Ireland to three hundred farmers, farm family members and farm workers.  The workshops were delivered as part of CAFRE’s Farm Family Key Skills programme.

The workshops were the first of their kind to be delivered on a widespread basis to farmers and farm families and focused on how to recognise the symptoms of excessive stress; exploring ways to build resilience and develop strong mental fitness and learning how to access specialist support.

The workshops encouraged participants to think practically about the changes they could make to their lifestyle and/or business to improve their wellbeing – such as spending quality time with family and friends, and developing a better work/life balance through focused self-care activities.

Participants also learned how to support friends and neighbours who may also be experiencing challenges. Workshops were open to farmers, members of the farm family including farm workers over the age of sixteen.

A recent evaluation of the programme indicated that the response from participants was overwhelmingly positive, with many farmers reporting that it was the right time – and about time – that the topic of mental health was being addressed in this way.

Participants reported that the workshop had increased awareness and understanding of mental health, with 94% agreeing that they would now be more aware of the signs of stress in themselves and others; and, as a result of the workshop, 100% of participants said they would know where to source or who to contact if they, or someone they knew, needed help or support.

Furthermore, all participants said they feel more confident approaching the subject of mental health within the circle of their families and friends as a direct result of these workshops and 97% would recommend the programme to their personal and business networks.

Clodagh Crowe, from Rural Support’s Farm Business Support Unit, said: “Undoubtedly, the stigma surrounding mental health in the farming community remains a barrier within the industry, something which was acknowledged by participants. However, progress is being made and we are particularly pleased to see the increase in confidence in the participants around mental health and how to recognise when things are on a downward spiral. The evaluated outcomes from these workshops provides clear evidence of the need of these types of programmes in the farming community.

There will also undoubtedly be a lasting impact of Covid19 for farmers and farm families, both in terms of business and mental wellness. Rural Support remains committed to building upon the foundations in place in both areas to best support our farmers and farming families”.

If you or someone you know would benefit from speaking to Rural Support, please ring our helpline on 0800 138 1678.  All calls are confidential, the helpline is available 9am-9pm, Monday to Friday (alternative support options available at all times).