How farmers can improve their post-lockdown health

The “lag” effect of lockdown will spark mental health issues in the farming community for many months to come, experts are warning.

“Farmers are used to working in isolation, but most traditionally had some interaction with others, even if it was only the pub on the Friday night or the church service on a Sunday – and the absence of that will take its toll for some time yet,” says Jude McCann, chief executive of the Farming Community Network.

He is urging everyone to take advantage of the easing of restrictions this summer to meet with friends and if possible have time off-farm pursuing other interests, to protect and improve their mental health.

“It’s not about having, say, two holidays a year – it’s simple things like getting together with a neighbour and having fish and chips on a Friday evening and trying to talk about topics unrelated to farming. It’s all too easy for agriculture to become all-consuming.”

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The pandemic came at a time when there were already big pressures on families and businesses, with the farming industry transitioning from Basic Payment Scheme to new support arrangements, against the backdrop of new environmental requirements linked to climate change.

“Farmers aren’t unfamiliar with uncertainty, but there’s even more of it at present than usual,” says Jude.

“It might only be a half-hour walk or a quick session in the gym, but find whatever helps you disconnect and try to take the time to do. You come back after time away with new ideas, refreshed and with a different perspective. You’ll be more able to tackle the challenges.

“You hear about the work-life balance, but I refer to the ‘life-farm’ balance. If you’re not looking after yourself and your family members, you’re not going to be able to operate a profitable, viable business.”

Covid impact

Kate Miles, charity manager at the DPJ Foundation, is also aware that the prolonged period of being unable to take part in even normal and routine pursuits is taking its toll on people’s mental health.

“We’re certainly not done with the after-effects of Covid,” she says. “Loneliness and isolation are among the main issues prompting people to call our helpline.

“Whether it was playing rugby, having a game of darts in the pub or attending a mother-and-baby group, these activities haven’t been happening and so our usual support structures were taken away.”

The inability to see friends, socialise and “stay connected” at livestock marts was a particular blow to many, she says. With some continuing to operate on a drop-and-go basis, this is still an absence for many.

“Interaction at markets was also a great way to ‘compare notes’. If something had gone wrong on the farm, you might mention it – and, chances are, someone else would have been through exactly the same thing. You’d realise you weren’t doing anything wrong and that you weren’t on your own.”

With people unable to see anyone other than those they lived with for months, relationship tensions have also come to the fore – whether that’s between partners, challenges looking after children or succession and inter-generational issues.

“People were living in a goldfish bow, sometimes in a confined space and spending more time together so issues that might have been there for a long time have risen to the surface and this will continue to happen for months to come.”


Kate is urging people to take opportunities to “reconnect”, whether that’s through farm discussion groups or Young Farmers’ Club meetings. Pursuing new interests online, through podcasts and apps, can also be useful, she says.

“It you’re feeling unwell or not yourself, isolating yourself can be easy to do, but it can compound the situation.”

Recognising the specific factors that cause you stress – and knowing what releases that stress – is important, she adds. “Some things such as having a balanced diet, limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake, staying hydrated and getting some exercise will work for everybody.

“Make sure you get an occasional break and rest, too. Whether it’s five minutes, five hours or five days, taking time out will help. You might not want to do this, but you need to recharge. You’ll come back more effective and efficient.”

It’s vital to talk to someone if you’re not feeling yourself or under pressure, adds Kate.

“It can seem really hard when you feel like you’re the only person who’s ever been through it – and you are the only person who’s been through your particular experience – but so many people will have experienced something similar. People won’t judge you.

“Your GP can be a good place to start, because there could be an underlying physical factor.

“Our bodies don’t operate in isolation – they’re influenced by what’s going on in our heads and vice versa. We need to have both healthy to be fully healthy.”

Nina Clancy, chief executive of the RSABI, says there are many issues – often interconnected – currently prompting people to call the Scottish support organisation’s helpline.

Don’t wait for crisis point

“Mental health is an issue, but it’s often closely linked to pressures of succession and family breakdown, debt and money worries, plus the implications of accidents, illnesses and bereavements.

 “If you’re struggling with your welfare or feeling low, all these other things feel so much worse. Likewise, if you’re dealing with long-term stress – because of any of those issues – it will impact on you mental health as well, so it’s a vicious circle.”

The RSABI’s helpline has seen a 63% increase in calls between 2020 and 2021, partly reflecting the pandemic’s effects.

“People could phone or Zoom each other, but getting away from the farm and having that in-person contact has been missing. Covid was really scary, particularly for elderly people and those on their own.”

Nina urges those who feel they need assistance to call sooner rather than later. “Please don’t wait until it gets to crisis point. The earlier you call, the more control you have and the more options there are.”

Often, a mix of practical, financial and emotional help is most effective, she points out.

“It could simply be one phone call in which we signpost someone to a counsellor or it might be that we work with people for a year or more, helping them deal with issues step by step until they’re back on track.”

The various initiatives raising awareness of mental health have started to break down barriers, making people realise it is OK to ask for help, she adds.

“There’s still a long way to go, but we have seen an improvement in people’s willingness to talk about poor mental health and wellbeing in last few years.

“Our physical and mental health are inseparable. “If you’re firing on all cylinders, you’ll be happier, more content and more able to cope with the challenges life throws at you. If you’re fit, healthy and well, you’ll be less stressed, make better decisions and less likely to have an accident. You’ll farm better.”


Stay strong and resilient

Check out the Farming Community Network’s (FCN) FarmWell, a one-stop resource to help you and your farm business stay strong and resilient. More information at and

Where to get help

Britain’s Fittest Farmer

British agriculture’s hit health and wellbeing initiative, Britain’s Fittest Farmers, is back for a fresh round of competition in 2021.

Applications are now open to anyone aged 18 or over who works in UK agriculture.

We’re looking to crown one man and one woman who are judged to be the best ambassadors of health and wellbeing, with a much-coveted trophy and £1,000 cash prize up for grabs for each winner.

This is a fun and friendly competition designed to getting the nation’s farmers talking more about their mental and physical health.

Find out more and enter at

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