£0.5m boost for rural stress work
By Alistair Driver
FARMERS feeling the strain of falling incomes and an uncertain future have been urged to take advantage of the growing network of groups dealing with rural stress.
The groups will have an extra £500,000 to spend between now and next spring, following a government award announced at Marchs farm summit.
The Rural Stress Action Plan was launched last Friday, outlining how the money will be spent through an innovative partnership between voluntary groups and established rural organisations.
The fund will be administered by the Rural Stress Information Network. Other voluntary groups, including the Farm Crisis Network, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and the Agricultural Chaplains Association, will work with the RSIN to implement the plan.
RSIN director Caroline Davies expressed her "disappointment" that farm minister Nick Brown was forced to pull out of the London launch. But she welcomed MAFFs support for the work of the voluntary sector and said she hoped more money would be available in the future.
She explained how new support initiatives would be set up in areas of the country that were not well served at present. The south-east and south-west of England have been selected as pilot areas.
There will also be funds to train staff and volunteers and concerted efforts to publicise the help groups. People who come into regular contact with farmers will be briefed about how to spot signs of stress and give support and "signposting".
MAFF staff, vets and members of organisations such as the NFU, Country Landowners Association and Tenant Farmers Association will be targeted.
The suicide rate among farmers is said to be more than 50% above the national average. MAFF figures for 1998 show 79 farm-related deaths from suicide and "undetermined injury". Earlier this year, an NFU survey revealed that one in 10 tenant farmers were using anti-depressants.
In recent years, the problems of geographical isolation, long hours and never being able to switch off have been compounded by the farm crisis.
"The single common factor among callers is financial crisis," said Ms Davies, adding that more than half RSINs callers were women.
She said most calls were made during the winter and, as the long dark nights approach, urged farmers to contact the people who could listen, offer support and direct them to others who could help.
Farm Crisis Network vice-chairman the Rev Gordon Gatward said: "A few weeks ago I had to take the funeral of a farming friend who had shot himself. For months his wife had been trying to get him to talk to someone, but he would not.
"There is nothing to be embarrassed about in talking to someone about your problems. We are here and we can help."
To contact the Rural Stress Information Network, call 024-7641 2916.