NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts used his platform at the Future Farmers of Yorkshire’s #Fit2Farm conference, Harrogate, to encourage farmers to ‘just be a bit more open with each other’.
Remembering the question mark after being asked how you are is a good way to reduce the stigma around farmers’ mental health and well-being.
NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts used his platform at the Future Farmers of Yorkshire’s #Fit2Farm conference, Harrogate, to reiterate comments that farmers needed to drop their stoic attitude and ‘just be a bit more open with each other’.
He used the example of his usual greeting with Rock and Roll Farming podcaster and FG columnist Will Evans, who give each other a ‘competitive’ handshake every time they see each other.
“One of us will say how are you,” said Mr Roberts, who vowed when elected NFU vice-president 20 months ago that he would keep farm safety and mental well-being at the forefront of the agenda.
“And what does the other say? Great. Because that is the default answer.
“But we have forgotten there is a question mark at the end of how are you. Sometimes we are not okay, sometimes we are not ‘fine’, and actually we need to look out for each other.”
Mr Roberts spoke for the first time in public about his struggles as a child with dyslexia, as well as more recent struggles with his weight.
“This is getting quite therapeutic,” he joked. “I am enjoying this.”
In the UK, farmers account for one of the largest suicide rates amongst all occupation groups, with similar rates found in the US and Australia.
Psychologist Dr Caroline Knott said factors which farmers have admitted worsen their mental health include increasing age and isolation, animal disease, relationship breakdowns, personal health and lack of work-life balance.
She said: “Most of the time we all have stresses in our bucket. But you are all right, because you are functioning.
“What happens when a couple more stresses suddenly come? The bucket overflows. That is when we see you coming into hospital and that is when we see extreme responses to mental health.
“You can go into a mental health crisis because stresses have increased, but you can come back out of it as well.”
Mr Evans, who farms in Bangor-on-Dee, Wrexham, told delegates how his love of running had not just helped his physical health and becoming a better father, husband and farmer, but also his mental well-being.
He has since run both the London Marathon and the Manchester Marathon, which he says has increased his confidence and ‘belief in my own ability’.
“I did not start running for this; it has been a happy accident and has helped me massively leave farm stress behind,” he said.
“I can only describe it as being like a switch.”