Poor mental health is contributing to the farming industry’s abysmal record on safety, a survey has found.
Burdens of Brexit, changing consumer habits, financial uncertainty and the climate crisis are all causing stress and anxiety levels to rise, with 84 per cent of farmers under 40 believing mental ill health is the biggest danger facing the industry.
The survey also found 85 per cent of young farmers believe there is a definite link between mental health and the overall safety of farms.
The study by the Farm Safety Foundation (FSF) coincided with the third Mind Your Head Campaign which ran this week and raises awareness of the mental health issues facing farmers such as ‘smiling depression’, PTSD, loneliness and rural isolation.
Stephanie Berkeley, FSF, said while it was encouraging to see more people speaking openly about mental health, there was still ’more work to be done’, adding the industry had the second highest rate of suicides.
In 2018, there were 83 suicides amongst people working in agricultural and related trades in England and Wales.
She said: "It is vital to build a culture within agriculture that explicitly recognises how the job can impact on the well-being of farmers and their families and conversely how poor mental health can have a direct and deadly impact on the job."
Former National Federation of Young Farmers (NFYFC) chairwoman Milly Fyfe opened up about her struggles with loneliness, something which is prevalent within the farming community, where many people live and work remotely.
She said: “I started to feel lonely after having my second child as he suffered with silent reflux, which meant he was constantly in pain and struggled to sleep unless he was close to me – this made it difficult for me to socialise and I struggled with sleep deprivation.
“I felt isolated as my husband was busy with lambing followed by silage and haymaking and I had little support.”
Mrs Fyfe said seeking support on online forums alongside help from friends and families was key to her recovery.
Ms Berkeley agreed one of the most effective methods of combating the stigma surrounding mental health within rural communities was ‘talking about it’, which she said was central to the campaign.
CLA deputy president Mark Tufnell said farmers were renowned for the care they give to their livestock and the attention they give their crops, but ’now is the time for us to better take care of ourselves’.
NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts added: "As a community we can do more to look out for one another and reach out to provide support to our family and friends who might otherwise suffer in silence."