Farm Doctor: Tips on managing mental health for farmers

The Farm Safety Foundation launched its seventh annual Mind Your Head campaign this week (12-16 February). 

The project seeks to raise awareness of mental health in the farming industry, and to shine a light on the charities and support services that are available to rural communities.

As the week-long campaign draws to a close, Farmers Weekly’s Farm Doctor, Camilla Baker, says it is the perfect time to check in with your mental health, as she shares her top tips for boosting mental wellbeing while juggling a busy farming business. 

See also: Farm Doctor: Could you recognise heart attack symptoms?

“When thinking about our wellbeing, we often focus on our physical health,” Camilla says.

“If we have a cold or a headache, it’s easy to recognise that we are unwell, and take a few paracetamol to make ourselves feel better.

“But our mental health is as important as our physical health, and it can be difficult to recognise when we are becoming unwell.

“Good mental health does not mean being happy all the time. Our mental health can be a little bit like the weather – some days or periods are better than others.

“When we have good mental health and wellbeing, we are better able to cope with life’s difficulties and the challenges of farming.”

It is important to recognise when we or our loved ones are struggling with our mental health and to seek help promptly.

What are the signs and symptoms?

“Depression is when a person’s mood is persistently low,” Camilla explains. 

“It can vary in severity and affects everyone differently, but depression and low mood can interfere with people’s day-to-day life, their relationships and their ability to work.

“The main symptom of depression is ongoing low mood or loss of interest in activities that you would normally enjoy.”

Other symptoms include:

  • Poor sleep. Either difficulty falling asleep, or waking early in the morning
  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Change in appetite. This can be eating more, or less, than normal
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, general pains, and palpitations (feeling like your heart is racing).

“Some people also experience thoughts of ending their life or feel as if life is no longer worth living. If this is the case, please know that this is a sign of illness and there is support and help available,” says Camilla.

It’s not clear what causes depression, but it can affect anyone. Some people are more prone, and some develop it for no apparent reason.

Life events can be a trigger, including ill health, pregnancy, alcohol and drug use, and the menopause.

“Loneliness is also a very common trigger for low mood and depression. This is particularly important in the farming community, as people often spend time working independently and for long hours.”

Investigations and diagnosis

If you have a change in mood or feel as if you are developing symptoms of depression, it is important to seek help.

As poor mental health and low mood are so common, it is something doctors are used to talking about, and they can help you to explain how you are feeling.

“A diagnosis of depression is normally made when symptoms have been present for more than a few weeks,” Camilla says.

“Your doctor or medical practitioner may ask you a number of questions or may ask you to fill in a questionnaire. This helps to understand how severe the illness is and helps to guide treatment and support.”


Poor mental wellbeing or depression are generally managed with a mixture of lifestyle changes, talking therapies and medication. It is important to recognise how helpful reaching out and talking things through can be.

Lifestyle changes

“Farmers are typically active people, and I don’t need to tell you how stressful the job and industry is,” says Camilla.

“It is important that people take the time to prioritise themselves and spend time doing things for their own enjoyment.

“Lifestyle changes alone can help with symptoms of mild to moderate depression and may help you avoid the need for further therapies.

Living with low mood and depression can be really difficult, but little changes may help make the feelings less overwhelming.”

  • Exercise can have a powerful effect on your mood. Take a walk around the farm or in nature, not just to check on the animals or crops, but to enjoy being outside.
  • Eat regularly, even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Talk to friends or loved ones and don’t “bottle it up”. We all suffer with low mood and periods of feeling down. Your loved ones will want to help, and it is not weak to seek help.
  • Try to avoid alcohol or drugs. They may feel as if they help with our feelings but have been shown to worsen our mood and mental wellbeing in the long run.
  • Sometimes taking a spell of time off work can help. This is often difficult in the farming world, but remember how the community can come together to help in times of difficulty.

Talking therapies

There are many different types of talking therapy, and you may find one type more helpful than another.

Help is often available in person, by video call, over the phone, or as an online course.

“Living in a rural setting should not be a barrier to accessing these services, so speak to your GP or medical practitioner about what is available in your local area,” Camilla says.

“We need to remove the stigma attached to talking therapies. All sessions are confidential and run by well-trained health professionals and have been proven to help immensely with low mood, depression and anxiety.

“Talking therapies may include guided self-help, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and counselling.”


Antidepressant medication is just one of the management options for depression and low mood.

“It has more benefit in severe depression, though may be used in mild or moderate cases if lifestyle changes and talking therapies have not helped,” Camilla explains.

“There are different types of antidepressant medication and your doctor will recommend the most suitable one for you.

“They may take a few weeks to work, and you should be regularly reviewed by your doctor after starting them.”

Seeking help

If you are having thoughts of not wanting to be around any more, or thoughts of ending your life, please seek urgent help. Mental health is an illness, and there is help and support available.


  • Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (Rabi) 0800 188 4444
  • Farming Community Network (FCN) 03000 111 999
  • DPJ Foundation 0800 587 4262

Mind Your Head

Key findings from the Farm Safety Foundation’s Mind Your Head survey: 

  • 95% of farmers under 40 said poor mental health was one of the biggest hidden problems facing farmers
  • Longer working hours are negatively affecting farmer mental health
  • 61% of farmers work at least 10-hour days
  • 15% are working 14-15 hours a day