Long hours a factor in farmers’ worsening mental health

The Farm Safety Foundation’s annual Mind Your Head campaign has launched today (Monday 12 February), shedding light on the worsening issue of mental health in the farming sector.

The campaign, now in its seventh year, seeks to highlight the increasing concerns over mental health in the farming industry, connecting rural workers with the help they need to protect their mental wellbeing.

The charity’s latest survey of 450 farmers under 40 showed that respondents almost universally (95%) agreed that poor mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing the industry today.

See also: MPs accuse government of complacency on rural mental health

“Just four years ago, 82% of farmers believed that mental health was the biggest hidden danger, so this figure has crept up enormously,” Yellow Wellies manager Stephanie Berkeley told Farmers Weekly.

“What we are seeing is that there is a clear relationship between working hours and levels of mental wellbeing.”

The research showed that farmers with shorter working hours were found to have better mental health, with 61% of farmers surveyed saying that they worked a 10-hour-day on average, and 15% working a 14-15 hour day. 

Many admitted to rarely or never taking a day off.

“We have seen deterioration [of mental health] over the past few years, even though the campaign has grown,” explained Ms Berkeley.

Industry statistics

Agriculture as an industry retains the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK, but more worrying still are the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, which recorded that 36 farmers took their own lives in England and Wales in 2021.

The Mind Your Head campaign has received backing from Conservative MP Neil Hudson, who worked closely with a range of farming charities for a cross-party Environment Food and Rural Affairs committee report looking into rural mental health.

Dr Hudson said: “Having instigated a parliamentary inquiry and report on rural mental health, I am acutely aware of the significant mental health challenges facing our rural communities.

“Farmers and farmworkers make huge sacrifices to keep the nation fed and keep our landscape in shape – and yet sometimes they can care far more for their work than themselves.

“We must start these tough conversations about mental health and physical health in order to break down stigmas, which unfortunately are still a huge barrier to those in need seeking help.”

About ‘Mind Your Head’ week

Mind Your Head launched in 2018 when concerns about Brexit, policies, administration and legislation were causing increased anxiety in the UK farming sector.

Now in its seventh year, the campaign has grown and is now recognised by 67% of farmers in the UK.

An increase in extreme weather events in recent years, coupled with price inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, have all contributed to the enormous list of stressors facing farmers.

Where to get help

If you are struggling with your mental health, please call the following helplines: 

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