Raising awareness of mental health top of Royal Welsh agenda

Raising awareness of mental health problems in rural communities was top of the agenda at this year’s Royal Welsh Show, with the Farmers’ Union of Wales running a dedicated seminar as part of its commitment to continuing the conversation.

The seminar, held on 26 July at the union’s pavilion, included panellists from Alzheimer’s Society Cymru, the Farming Community Network and DPJ Foundation, and was chaired by Lilwen Joynson.

Signs to look out for

  • Poor sleep patterns is often an indicator
  • Low/high energy
  • Mood swings
  • Getting angry quickly
  • Getting very low
  • Withdrawing/withholding information

Ms Joynson helps facilitate Agrisgop, a management development programme, with Farming Connect and is passionate about taking the stigma out of mental health in farming, having gone through her own struggles.

Though not currently farming, Ms Joynson grew up in a farming family in west Wales and attended agricultural college in Aberystwyth, before getting married at 21.

In 1991 she came back to Wales to farm full-time with her husband and three children, but when the children grew up and started to leave home, she realised something was wrong.

“I couldn’t make sense of it, I was crying all the time, I was tired and my relationship with my husband broke down,” she said.

“My doctor put me on antidepressants, and I trusted her because she was the expert, but for me it gave me a false reality and I wasn’t functioning properly, so I came off them.”

Stressful harvest

Ms Joynson moved away from farming to go back to education and now works as a counsellor, promoting talking therapies and prevention, rather than medical treatment.

At the Royal Welsh Show, farmers shared concerns with Ms Joynson about the ongoing dry weather and the stress of harvest, as well as variable prices and bovine TB.

Farming mental health stats

  • The leading cause of death for people aged between 20 and 34 is suicide (Farm Safety Foundation)
  • In the UK, one farmer commits suicide every week (NFUS)
  • One in four people will suffer with mental health problems in their lifetime (DPJ Foundation)
  • About 17% of the population of Wales, around 440,000 people report being lonely (2016-17 National Survey for Wales)

She advises farmers focus on one job or issue at a time and break the day down into small chunks.

“Manage the day, rather than the bigger picture,” she said. “If you’re assessing food for next year, focus on what options you have rather than going to the worst case scenario.

“Look at your wins and how successful you have been, rather than running from one task to the next.”

Ms Joynson has joined Focussed Farmers as a coach, helping to deliver the free programme teaching people in the agricultural sector to achieve their goals with less stress through mindfulness and brain training.

She will also launch #shwmaeletstalk in August, starting with one group in Pembrokeshire for farmers to come together regularly to share their concerns in a respectful space, with the option to roll it out if successful.

She explained: “If we don’t talk, we don’t support and we end up with problems and an industry that isn’t facing up to the reality of how mental health affects us all.”

What can I do?

  • Talk to a friend – ideally someone outside of the industry who has a different perspective
  • Engage with a counsellor who you can see regularly and make it a priority
  • Contact your farming union
  • Identify local grassroots support
  • Take yourself off farm
  • Take some time for yourself

Charity contacts

  • RABI Freephone helpline: 0808 281 9490 or email info@rabi.org.uk
  • Farming Community Network helpline 03000 111 999 or email chris@fcn.org.uk
  • Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) HOPELineUK 0800 068 4141
  • Mind Call 0300 123 3393, email info@mind.org.uk or text 86463
  • Samaritans Call 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Samaritans Welsh language line 0808 164 0123
  • Tir Dewi Call 0800 121 4722 or email mail@tirdewi.co.uk
  • Community Advice & Listening Line for Wales Call 0800 132 737 or text 81066
  • Rural Support in Northern Ireland 0800 138 1678
  • Scottish Association of Mental Health 0141 530 1000
  •  Citizens Advice find your local office on www.citizensadvice.org.uk