Mental health services in rural areas need urgent attention to ensure farmers’ needs are adequately met, researchers say.
Farmers facing worsening mental health issues experience what researchers call a tense “support landscape” in rural areas.
A study funded by the ESRC and published today in Rural sociology shows how the Covid-19 pandemic has led to increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings among the farming population in the UK. This raises concerns about what the research team calls ‘supportive landscapes’, with civil society organizations struggling to support farmers alongside primary mental health services that are sometimes inaccessible and unsuited to rural communities.
The research team conducted two surveys which were answered by over 200 farmers and 93 support providers across the UK, and additionally conducted in-depth interviews with 22 supporters of mental health in agriculture across the UK. Britain.
Farmers are essential workers, but some have been shown to suffer from poor mental health due to being relatively physically, socially and culturally isolated. By the time the pandemic hit the UK, farmers were already facing great uncertainty about transitions away from the EU Common Agricultural Policy.
By interviewing and surveying supporters of agricultural mental health, including chaplains, charities, auction staff and primary health care, the research found that mental health services are under strain. hardship in rural communities and provide uneven coverage across the country. Some health facilities may be inaccessible and not include agriculture, while informal spaces of social support are eroded due to loss of rural community. Mental health charities are struggling with funding and the trauma of helping farmers through tough times.
Academics are now calling on policy makers to take urgent action to help rural-proof primary mental health services and better support civil society organizations that are expanding the safety net for farmers.
The research project was led by David Rose of Cranfield University, professor of sustainable farming systems.
He said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues for farmers that we already knew existed. For example, the provision of primary mental health care in parts of the UK is based on urban delivery models which are not suited to rural communities. civil society organizations are struggling to bridge the support gap, but these organizations face their own challenges.
“This issue needs urgent attention to ensure farmers get the support they need and help civil society organizations thrive. We want devolved governments to address this issue urgently and ensure that support is in place for future shocks”.
Acknowledging that mental health issues exist in rural communities in the UK is not enough on its own. Our research shows that those who have worked hard at a professional level to support our farmers over the past few years face multiple challenges. Care must therefore be taken to ensure that these organizations are supported to be both adaptable and sustainable over the long term, to the benefit of the communities they serve. »
Dr Caroline Nye, Researcher, University of Exeter
Hannah Rees, a 26-year-old dairy farmer from Pembrokeshire in Wales, said: “It’s great that more is being done to support those working in agriculture, but I still think there is still a long way to go.
“It’s important to reduce the stigma around mental health. Also, I think we need to stop taking a blanket approach that counseling is the only way to help people. Focus groups and meetings zoom are other fantastic ways to provide support and combat loneliness.
“I think we should see the introduction of mental health first aid training for those working in agriculture.”
Stephanie Berkeley of the Farm Safety Foundation said: “I welcome the findings of this study and agree that urgent action is needed to support the continued mental health of our farmers. They work long hours every day, across global pandemics and uncertain times, putting food on our plates – but that dedication comes at a price.
“We need immediate action at government level to improve the delivery of primary mental health care for those living and working in rural communities and we need to ease the pressure on rural support groups and charities on which we count to provide support to people in crisis.
The co-authors of the article were: Dr Faye Shortland (formerly University of Reading), Dr Caroline Nye (Exeter), Professor Matt Lobley (Exeter), Dr Ruth Little (formerly University of Sheffield), Dr Jilly Hall (SPSN) , Dr Paul Hurley (formerly University of Reading) and Professor David Rose (Cranfield University, formerly University of Reading).
The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UKRI’s rapid response to COVID-19.
As a Kenyan-born black man in British farming, my mental health is healthy. Despite the usual perception of campaign biases of underexposed people, my experience in the industry has been largely positive. That said, we are still a long way from a significant shift in people’s mindset towards workforce diversity in the industry.”
Flavian Obiero, East Sussex farmer
Eveey Hunter, a farmer from Hertfordshire, said: “As wonderful as our industry is, it can be a very lonely and isolating place for some. There are many stressful factors that determine the success or failure of businesses, including the most are out of our control – global markets, huge input cost inflation and of course the weather.Unfortunately there is also a stigma attached to talking about feelings, mainly with men, which needs to be discussed.”
Kate Miles, of the DPJ Foundation, a mental health charity that supports the farming community in Wales, said: “Over the past two years we have seen an increase in demand for our service. We know farmers appreciate talking to someone who understands the pressure they face, and that understanding is essential in mental health services. We see pockets of good work happening across the country, including in rural areas. However, it should be consistent no matter where you are geographically.
Trudy Herniman, adviser for Cornish Mutual, which provides insurance to farms, businesses and people living and working in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset, said: “The issues raised for farmers and those working in agriculture following the Covid-19 pandemic are still very present and now even more exacerbated.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we had the war between Ukraine and Russia, with everyone feeling the effect in rising fuel and input costs. But then farmers experienced volatility in the weather as storms damaged buildings and power supplies.
“Farmers find it difficult to seek help and when they are in distress, they find it difficult to overcome the obstacles of not being able to get a doctor’s appointment. Thanks to my training in health first aid mental health, myself and others from Farmerados (a social welfare charity) go to markets and shows and bring tea and cakes and a safe space to talk We offer support or a listening ear C is crucial in helping to reduce the anxiety and stress experienced by farmers and members of the farming community.
Shortland, F. et al. (2022) Accompanying landscapes of agricultural mental health: Adaptability in the face of crisis. Rural sociology. doi.org/10.1111/soru.12414.
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