With isolation and social distancing impacting farmers’ mental health, Stephanie Berkeley, Farm Safety Foundation manager, is calling on everyone to look out for each other in these challenging times.
There is no doubt that the world as we knew it at the start of 2020 - remember hugs and handshakes? - is now upside down.
The impact of this global pandemic has been massive on our economy and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently reported that Britain’s economy is likely to suffer the worst damage from the Covid-19 crisis of any country in the developed world.
Isolation and social distancing has affected our mental health and shutdowns have severely disrupted many of our vital sectors – not least agriculture, food and drink.
While UK farmers may be used to dealing with rural isolation and have been less affected by the health impacts of Covid-19, there are real fears that the industry will be hit hard in months to come as the economic impact from restrictions and lockdown measures take hold.
Levels of depression are still thought to be increasing, stress-related calls to farming charity helplines had been increasing and, in 2018, 83 suicides were registered among people working in agricultural and related trades in England and Wales.
It is of little surprise therefore, that these farming charities and rural support groups are gearing up for an upsurge in calls to helplines and are adapting their services to support the industry over the coming months.
Alicia Chivers, chief executive of R.A.B.I said: “Lives have been turned upside-down and we know that the disruption caused by Covid-19 will continue to impact on the farming community for a significant time to come.
“Farming life already carries many inherent uncertainties and, as we head into the autumn, R.A.B.I is expecting an increase in the level of support needed, largely resulting from the effects of the very wet autumn and subsequent dry spring period.”
This autumn R.A.B.I will be launching an online counselling service for the farming community, free at point of use and available 365 days of the year.
It is hoped that this will provide a valuable new complementary way for people to gain advice and support during the challenging times ahead.
Commenting on how the Farming Community Network (FCN) are dealing with the situation, Jude McCann, chief executive officer of FCN, said: “While cases of Covid-19 are currently declining across the UK, farmers will be remaining vigilant at a critical time for the industry and FCN stands ready to provide support to those who need it.
“We are reminding the farming community of the need to plan ahead, maintain a Covid-19 safe workplace and consider contingencies in case any members of the farm team are affected directly or required to self-isolate.”
But what does this have to do with Farm Safety Week?
Farm Safety Week
An interesting result of our most recent annual tracker survey revealed 85 per cent of young farmers agree there is a definite link between mental health and farm safety, so it seems only right that this is something that we are highlighting this Farm Safety Week.
We need to build a culture within agriculture that explicitly recognises how the job can impact on the wellbeing of farmers and their families and conversely how poor mental health can have a direct and deadly impact on the job.
There are many wonderful initiatives out there helping to tackle this issue.
Young Farmers clubs like Killraughts YFC, Kilrea YFC and Annaclone & Magherally YFC in Northern Ireland have done some fun challenges throughout the lockdown.
National Federation of Young Farmers Club has held their isolation challenge and Scottish Association of Young Farmers Club has introduced Are Ewe Aware, a new resource hub to support their members.
Even celebrity influencers like Gareth Wyn Jones have taken on the 25 press up challenge during the past few months to keep people talking about the issue.
This is not even touching on the amazing work by Farming Help and the 26 plus rural support groups through the country.
There are so many passionate partners helping us to give farm safety and mental health equal airtime. So why wouldn’t we?
Where would our agricultural industry be without the hard-working and dedicated people that live and work in it?
I may have said it before but this is not someone else responsibility, this is our watch and, in these challenging times, it’s down to each and every one of us to look out for our friends, colleagues, neighbours and ourselves.