Farm charity gives advice on mental health in winter months

The festive period can bring mental health challenges for farming families but help is out there, say support organisations.

Darker days, colder weather and Christmas and the new year can be a tough time for anyone feeling depressed or anxious, prompting campaigners to encourage people to seek help.

“The winter months can be lonely and isolating, with dark nights and poor weather creating additional challenges,” says Alex Phillimore, marketing and communications manager at the Farming and Community Network (FCN).

“Help and support is out there and it’s important that we look after our own physical and mental wellbeing, as well as make time where we can to reach out to friends, family and neighbours.

“A simple phone call checking in on someone – or a chat over a cup of tea – can make a huge difference.”

It follows new research by FCN and the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research (CRPR), which highlights how long hours, working alone and a feeling of being undervalued and disconnected from the wider public are key factors causing loneliness.

See also: HSE targets agriculture with mental health campaign

Farmers told researchers how the long hours they work trying to keep their business going, despite low returns, leaves little time for socialising, relaxing or spending time with their family – and the sense of loneliness this engenders was linked to mental health problems.

Other challenges include a lack of social opportunities, geographical isolation and declining business-related contact.

Poor rural broadband and transport connections can compound the issues, along with a feeling that the public has a limited understanding of what farming involves and its numerous daily demands.

Farm-life balance

“Farmers are currently facing a multitude of challenges and many told us how they are struggling to find the time to socialise or take a break from the stresses of the occupation,” says Rebecca Wheeler from the University of Exeter’s CRPR.

“Farming can be a lonely life for both farmers and their families and negative views of farming among the public can exacerbate feelings of isolation.

“We need to do more to celebrate the work that farmers do in producing food and managing our countryside and support them in making positive changes where needed.”

Participants also highlighted how hard work is an accepted and valued part of what it means to be a farmer, but that this can lead to pressures and expectations to work harder.

Loneliness and other mental health problems can be compounded by a reluctance to talk about their worries, sometimes even to those closest to them.

According to Jude McCann, chief executive of FCN, there is a need for a culture change that not only permits farmers to feel they can take a break from work without fear of judgement, but actively promotes it as an essential part of successfully managing a business.

“Taking a break from the farm or having a rest from work is not a waste of time. The truth is it’s one of the most productive things you can do.

“Farmers told us they are expected to be strong and resilient and that admitting they are struggling and need help would be an admission of failure, of somehow not being a ‘good farmer’.

“This prevented people seeking help for loneliness and related mental health issues. We need to encourage a positive farm-life balance.”

The research also provides recommendations for improving support to farmers, including continued investment in rural broadband, further education and outreach to help the public understand farming and its challenges, and normalising taking time off-farm and finding a healthy work-life balance.

Recognise support network

In a bid to address some of these issues, FCN has launched a campaign to encourage people to recognise those who help support them during difficult times. They do this by answering one question: Who’s Your Julie?

The Who’s Your Julie? campaign aims to remind people that there is a wide network of support available and that the farm community needs to look out for one another.

The campaign was inspired by Charles Anyan, FCN ambassador, mental health advocate and Lincolnshire farmer – he has a close friend called Julie, who he can always confide in when he’s feeling stressed and discuss the issues or worries on his mind.

It’s inspired by FCN ambassador, mental health advocate and Lincolnshire farmer Charles Anyan, who has a close friend called Julie, who he can always confide in when he’s feeling stressed and discuss the issues or worries on his mind.

The Who’s Your Julie? initiative encourages people to think about their own “Julies” – whether that be a good friend, a mate down the pub, a sibling or a parent – and to recognise the support networks they have.

“‘Julies’ represent the reliable people in our social circles who are there to listen and support us,” says Dr McCann.

If someone doesn’t have a “Julie”, the campaign encourages them to find one – either by talking to FCN, engaging with local support networks or by speaking with other people taking part in the campaign.

“Recognising that a problem shared is a problem halved can help us to deal with challenging situations and find a positive way through them,” he says.

Join the Who’s Your Julie campaign

Take part in the #WhosYourJulie campaign by:

  • Recording a short video talking about your Julie(s)
  • Sharing the video on social media platform
  • Use the hashtag #MyJulieIs and tag other people in your network, asking them “Who’s Your Julie?”

How to find support

Winter can be a cold and isolating period for some, so if you are feeling lonely this Christmas, the FCN and other charities are here to listen, empathise and support you, and walk with you on the journey ahead and through the changes on the horizon.

Call 03000 111 999 (open 7am-11pm every day of the year) or email