Farmers don’t have to suffer in silence, says charity

A new campaign aims to help rural men who are struggling to cope with the effect of coronavirus restrictions on their mental wellbeing.

Launched by the Samaritans, the Real People, Real Stories campaign is being supported by the NFU Mutual Charitable Trust and the Farming Community Network.

See also: Fit2Farm – campaign improves farmer’s health and wellbeing

Nearly half (45%) of men in rural communities in Britain agree that they have experienced feelings of anxiety during lockdown. More than half (59%) say they feel worried about the future, according to the YouGov poll of men aged 20-59 years old.

Around a third (32%) said talking to others had helped ease their concerns and worries during lockdown

Seeking help

The Real People, Real Stories campaign features men sharing stories of overcoming tough times to encourage others to seek help – by calling Samaritans for free on 116 123. The campaign will run for six weeks, ending 27 September.

More than half (54%) of men that the charity spoke to said they were feeling worried or anxious as coronavirus restrictions continued to ease.

Samaritans spokesman Paul McDonald said: “This pandemic has brought unexpected change and uncertainty, which will have a lasting impact on everyone’s mental health and wellbeing.

“At Samaritans we know that less well off, middle-aged men have remained the highest risk group for suicide in the UK for decades.

“The restrictions put in place during lockdown such as isolation and disconnection will have exacerbated problems for these men.” 

Emotional pressure

Chartered surveyor and agricultural valuer Morgan Williams, from Port Talbot, is among those who has shared his story as part of the Real People, Real Stories initiative.

“With farming historically being male dominated, the stigma around talking about mental health was one of the biggest issues in agriculture and the allied industries,” he said.

“In more recent times, farmers are having to face a great deal of uncertainty, leading to financial and emotional pressure.

“I am lucky – as a result of my family farm location, I’m well-connected to friends, family and the outside world. But not everyone is so fortunate. Many farmers are very isolated, geographically and technologically, suffering from a lack of mobile phone reception and broadband.”

Significant role

NFU Mutual chief executive Lindsay Sinclair said loneliness, the strain of juggling home and work and financial pressures were leading to feelings of anxiety and fear.

Farming Community Network (FCN) chief executive Jude McCann said: “Farming is an industry where pressure and stress can negatively impact on the wellbeing of farmers.”

Dr McCann said it was important that farmers took the time to look after themselves, their family and their employees.

The majority of helpline calls to FCN during the Covid-19 lockdown had been stress-related, with the virus playing a significant role in exacerbating farmers’ concerns.

Help is available via the Real People, Real Stories website

People are most important asset, says minister

Northern Ireland farm minister Edwin Poots is urging farmers and their families to take their mental health and wellbeing seriously during coronavirus – saying people are agriculture’s most valuable asset.

“Given the challenging environment created by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is now more important than ever to look after ourselves both physically and mentally,” he said.

A new programme – Protecting the Asset that is You – is encouraging Northern Ireland’s farmers and their families to look after themselves.

The government-funded campaign is being delivered through Rural Support and the Farm Family Health Check Programme.

It aims to help farmers and rural communities by delivering crucial health messages and signposting people to appropriate services when and where they are needed.

Farmers could be more vulnerable than other people to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular health and skin cancer, suggested Mr Poots.

“These conditions are preventable and we, as farmers, can help ourselves greatly with the support of healthcare teams,” he said.

“We must be very mindful not to let the physical and psychological pressures involved in running a farm become harmful to the wellbeing of farmers or their families.

“That is why the ‘Protecting the Asset that is You’ campaign is so important. I am asking our farmers to remember that they and their families are the greatest asset on our farms.

“Without them, the farm will not work effectively. I urge you all, to please look after yourselves, be aware of potential health issues and seek the appropriate help.”