New university research focuses on farmers’ mental health

Farmers’ mental health and assessing the support available to them is the focus of two separate pieces of research from universities in England and Scotland.

A team from the University of Reading, Exeter University and the University of Sheffield will study the experiences of farmers and the challenges that farm charities have faced in providing support.

See also: Covid crisis worsening farmers’ mental health

Researchers will also explore how governments and other organisations can better target support for farmers and rural communities in times of crisis.

One of the aims is to understand how the coronavirus pandemic has affected farmers and their resilience to mental ill health.

Dr David Rose from the University of Reading will lead the project. He said four in five agricultural workers recognised that poor mental health was a major issue in the industry and that the coronavirus pandemic had only added pressure.

“We know that key sources of support for rural communities – friends in the pub, agricultural shows, on-farm demonstrations – have been unavailable for many during the pandemic,” Dr Rose said.

The project has received £190,000 in funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

Scotland research

In Scotland, researchers from the University of Sterling and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) are studying two different programmes of mental health support.

One will deliver emotional and social support, including financial advice, and the other will be an online psychological therapy, which has been developed for the farming and crofting community in Scotland.

The study will be conducted in the Highland area and the Shetland Islands, and researchers are looking for volunteers to take part in early-stage interviews and focus groups.

This will be followed by a pilot study of the programmes which will seek to recruit 40 members of the farming and crofting community. People interested in taking part should email

Dr Kate Stephen, a behavioural scientist at SRUC, said: “This project is looking at what types of support farmers and crofters could benefit from, and how this could be adapted to suit them best.

“We’re interested in the wider farming and crofting communities – not just owners but farm workers and family members, whether the farm or croft is large or small.”

The research is funded by the Scottish government and is supported by partners including the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution, Support in Mind Scotland, the National Rural Mental Health Forum and NHS Highland.

The new research follows the launch of the Big Farming Survey by the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, which is asking farmers about their wellbeing. The results will help inform ways to improve support for rural communities.