Although there has been a positive change in attitudes towards seeking help for mental health issues, older farmers are still less likely to acknowledge problems and reach out. Clemmie Gleeson takes a look at some of the reasons why and how to help reverse trends.
The stigma of reaching out for help with mental health issues is showing positive signs of reducing.
Awareness of mental health is improving, the importance of getting help is more widely understood and rural support networks say people are more inclined to talk about emotional difficulties than ever before.
However, older generations remain vulnerable, still hard to reach out.
Cultural influences are evident in the older ‘stoic’ generations, says Dr Caroline Knott, consultant psychologist with the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.
She says: “The older generation is not subjected to the high level of communication and discussion which takes place around mental health across social media.
They can remain isolated with their own mental health problems which they may not understand.” Farming Community Network’s regional director (south) and national helpline manager Mark Thomas says: “Older members of the farming community are from generations which can find it harder to talk about personal difficulties and may view doing so as a sign of weakness.
They may also have gained their experience and influences during times when the industry was less openminded and welcoming of differences.” While national statistics highlight those most at risk of anxiety and depression are men aged 40-50, older people can be prone to depression and this should be taken seriously in every case, says YANA’s founder Melinda Raker.
She says: “The older generation finds it more difficult to acknowledge poor mental health, which, given that so many of us will suffer from poor mental health at some time in our lives, should not be the case. Depression is an illness, not a weakness.”
Recognising early signs of stress and other signs of mental ill health is key, says Dr Knott, who is from a farming family herself.
“Early support can improve emotional wellbeing of the entire family and prevent mental health problems building up to where individuals feel there is no way out.
A good clue a person is feeling stressed is when they have difficulty being flexible or adapting to changing circumstances, which can lead to tension and family relationship difficulties.” What if the person is resistant to acknowledging problems and will not accept help? Liverpool-based counsellor Aarun Naik, of strong-heart.co.uk, who completed a Nuffield scholarship on mental wellbeing in farming in 2015, says there are steps to take to help those who are suffering.
He says: “Ask questions about how they feel or point out things you have noticed which are different about that person.
Give them a chance to explore what is going on.
If they are in a place to share what is going on keep the focus on listening to them and showing you are hearing what they are saying, rather than offering solutions, advice or trying to cheer them up.” YANA counsellor Maxine Robertson echoes the same advice.
She says: “Trying to understand how they are experiencing the world is crucial.
Getting them to acknowledge things are not right is the first step, the second being talking to their doctor or working with a trained and experienced counsellor may be beneficial.” The response may be that ‘I am not bad enough to need help’, she adds.
“It can be hard to get through to someone if they worry about appearing weak if they seek help or they do not think they are unwell or their state of mental health renders them unable to seek or accept help.
“If they are unable to see the benefits of outside help, perhaps using an analogy such as ‘sometimes on-farm, if your combine or tractor was not 100 per cent, are you always able to sort it on your own or do you sometimes have to enlist support?” If they say leaving the farm is too difficult, it may be worth suggesting many counsellors offer sessions by phone or online, particularly during these times of lockdown, she adds.
Farmers, along with the rest of the country, face new ongoing challenges and one of the industry’s biggest strengths is coming together during times of hardship, she adds.
Farming Community Network
Directory of National Rural Support Groups
British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy
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