6 October 1999
Isolation key to rural misery

By FWi staff

ISOLATION is a key factor behind rising levels of rural stress and suicide among farmers, contrary to what previous research says, claims the author of a new report.

Alison Monk, a senior lecturer at Harper Adams University College, warns that unless action is taken quickly the situation will get worse.

She says farmers feel isolation in three ways, including psychological isolation, caused, she believes, by an upbringing which encourages farmers to keep problems secret.

The others are geographical isolation as rural shops and pubs close; and cultural isolation as villages increasingly become dormitory towns for commuters.

These findings, from a survey of farmers in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, contradict much previous rural research.

Those studies did not rate isolation as such an important rural stress factor.

In her short questionnaire, Ms Monks asked farmers to talk about others rather than themselves, and interviews were not conducted in social places such as shows.

She believes this brought a more accurate response.

Men were found to feel psychological isolation more than women, “perhaps because women are more likely to admit they have problems”, Ms Monk speculates.

She calls for better training for policymakers and resource managers to ensure they target resources to rural areas.

She would also like to see health professionals given more advice on the special mental health needs of the rural community.

She adds that farmers must be taught the facts of rural isolation. “This would help break down the stigma and help people realise they are all in the same boat.

“They should know where help is available.”

Approximately 1000 farmers were contacted and around 400 replies received.

  • The report is published jointly by Harper Adams Countryside Development Unit (CDU) and the Rural Stress Information Network.