Video: #MindYourHead week highlights importance of mental health

Farmers are being encouraged to look after their mental health and wellbeing during Mind Your Head week.

Living well is the key to farming well, says the Farm Safety Foundation, which is highlighting the issue from 11-15 February.

The charity says there are a number of mental health risk factors associated with agriculture – including long hours that are frequently worked in isolation.

See also: Fit2Farm – Hard work and long hours take toll on farmers

Farmers are also often under significant financial pressure – and in most cases the farm is also home, meaning there is no easy way to get away from the workload.

Farm Safety Foundation manager Stephanie Berkeley said: “Farmer health and wellbeing cannot, and should not, be ignored – by any of us.

“Simply pretending the issue does not exist or has no impact on the industry is not acceptable.”

Stressful events

The week-long campaign is being mounted in the run-up to Brexit – which Ms Berkeley said was one of the biggest and possibly most stressful events facing the industry.

“In previous times of stress such as the BSE crisis in 1986 and the outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 2001, there was a sharp increase in the number of farmer suicides as farm incomes declined,” she said.

“Learning from past experiences, we need to be prepared to support our farmers through this time and this is what we are great at, as an industry.”

Recent research by the charity reveals that 81% of farmers younger than 40 believe mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today.

Some 92% of respondents said they believed promoting good mental health was crucial if lives were to be saved and farmers kept safe.

Ms Berkeley said: “We will continue to raise awareness of what the next generation consider the ‘biggest hidden problem’ in the industry and highlight the help available.”

She added: “This year, we will also put a special focus on building personal resilience for farmers at this critical time.

Support available

“As an industry, we have a collective responsibility to do something about the issue of poor mental health and the risk of suicide and we believe that every one of us has a role to play.”

During the week, the charity is reminding farmers and farming families help is available through its Yellow Wellies website.

It will launch a new film – called A Quiet Night Inn – to highlight the importance of good mental health and wellbeing.

A Rural Support Directory detailing regional support groups and key national charities complied by The YANA Project is available.

Personal experience

One person offering his support to the campaign is Jonathan Glen, a young farmer and student at Harper Adams University, Shropshire.

Mr Glen left his home, family and friends when he was 18 to travel to New Zealand to work on a 200ha dairy farm managing a herd of 600 cows.

Within weeks, and at the height of milk production, he was left in charge of the herd and soon realised he was depressed.

The situation was compounded by the isolation he felt on a farm in the middle of nowhere, with no family or close friends nearby, and his identity changed as a result.

Thankfully, Mr Glen was able to recognise his depression from similar symptoms experienced by a friend who showed him there was a way to deal with it through self-help and talking.

“Mental health in agriculture matters,” he said. “Having had my own battle with mental health while farming, I appreciate the seriousness of the cause.”