Young Farmers are taking positive steps to tackle one of the countryside’s biggest taboos, as Ben Pike reports.
Mental health issues affecting young people who live and work in rural areas are to be tackled by a campaign from the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC).
Rural+ was launched last week by NFYFC national chairman Claire Worden after research showed the state of mind among her members was being affected by a climate of uncertainty in farming.
It will see the organisation partnering with the Farm Community Network and YoungMinds charities for the first time to raise awareness of the support available to those struggling to deal with their problems.
Claire was touched by mental health issues when her father attempted suicide two years ago. She said it came “like a bolt from the blue” but also opened her eyes to the great help available to her through the NFYFC.
“After foot-and-mouth 10 years ago we came out of farming,” she said. “My dad had never done anything else and suddenly he didn’t have farming anymore. He was doing incredibly well in other jobs but one day he went missing and made an attempt on his life.”
Claire’s father survived, but now she is determined to tackle the mental health taboo and ensure that everyone involved in NFYFC knows there is help out there if they need it.
“My father was a typical farmer and kept his problems to himself but he opens up now. If we can change the mindset of my generation and the next then they might be more comfortable talking about their problems in the future.”
The campaign was born out of research carried out by NFYFC and FCN, which highlighted a number of key concerns among 127 members aged 16-25 years.
One third said that they were worried about the limited opportunities to start farming while more than half raised the issue of rural housing shortages. Fifty-eight per cent were worried about poor returns from farming and a similar number said animal disease was a concern.
“What I found really positive was that 47% would speak to their NFYFC if they had a problem and 77% would speak to families and friends,” Claire said, but added that she was unsure as to how many people were currently opening up.
Young farmers’ key fears
- Poor returns (58%)
- Animal diseases, such as bovine TB and the Schmallenberg virus (59%)
- Uncertainty of future farming profitability (54%)
- Limited rural employment opportunities (41%)
- Lack of capital finance (41%) and high land rents (45%)
- Low income (50%) and inability to save (45%)
With campaign sponsorship from crop packaging company Tama, leaflets about mental health will be distributed to every club in England and Wales.
Claire has also issued three challenges to all club chairmen – to raise the profile of YFC within the community to highlight how YFC can be a benefit to all; to research which local organisations offer mental health support; and to hold a club night about the subject, with the aim of breaking the taboo and starting the conversation.
“This is all about raising awareness within the membership and ensuring that we’re equipping our members with information about what’s available and an understanding that talking about it helps the situation,” she told Farmers Weekly.
FCN chief executive Charles Smith said that the research backed up the charity’s anecdotal evidence that mental health issues were starting to affect the younger generation.
“We’ve been dealing with the farming community since 1995 but it’s only recently that we’ve seen a rise in young people involved in our casework,” he said.
“We had previously believed that the 20-, 30- and 40-year-olds were more confident about their destiny, but recent history has shown us that they’re beginning to struggle and that’s a real concern.”
Suicide is the biggest killer of under-35s in the UK – a statistic that Charles said was “too much to bear”.
“Young farming people are very resilient and often reluctant to ask for help. Sometimes issues are very sensitive and they find it very difficult to open up.
How to access help
The Farm Community Network has digital and phone channels open to anyone who is experiencing difficulties. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0845 367 9990 to speak to someone in person. More information about the Rural+ campaign can be found at www.nfyfc.org.uk/ruralplus
“What we’re hoping to do is explain that these are not unusual problems and encouraging them to seek help. They are not alone.”
Unlike charities such as RABI, FCN doesn’t offer financial support but delivers the practical and pastoral help required to rebuild confidence and navigate through problems. Its email support service and phone lines are manned by volunteers who are either farmers or people with a strong rural connection so they can relate to the issues being discussed.
Charles said the charity would usually put the caller in touch with a local volunteer so that the two could meet face-to-face.
“So many young people are keen to remain in farming and yet a high proportion see that as very difficult. Just being able to talk that through can be really helpful.”
The NFYFC is now looking for more organisations to partner with to carry out research on a larger sample of young people in the countryside to find out more about their fears for the future.