Researching the relationship between adverse events on farms and thoughts of suicide

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The 27 year old’s study will form a big part of her doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool. Her thesis will be submitted in June 2019 and Laura hopes her investigation will be published and that the findings are interesting and informative enough to publish in medical journals.

The daughter of a North Yorkshire tenant farmer, the study is close to Laura’s heart having witnessed the heartbreak and frustration farming can bring to a family. Laura said: “I was quite young when Foot and Mouth Disease took place but the little I can remember will stay with me for life. Seeing families who had spent lifetimes raising herds just losing it all overnight was gut wrenching.

“That’s just one example. There are still countless unpredictable forces at play in farming which can make or break a business and worse still the farmer has absolutely no control over any of them. You just have to look at floods and droughts as examples. This is where my project has come from. I want to know if there is a link. And once this piece of work is completed I don’t want it to be shelved. I want the results to be used by the agricultural industry to further our understanding of mental health in farming.”

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The full project title is: An exploration of the relationship between adverse events on the farm and suicidal ideation in farmers; the mediating role of psychological factors.

Farmers taking part will be asked some questions about their recent experience of adverse events on the farm. Examples include weather related problems, animal or crop disease, troubles with animals and problems with farm machinery. They will also be asked questions about their mental health, recent life experiences and thoughts of suicide. Participants will then be asked to complete a selection of short self-report measures focussing on optimism, pessimism, resilience and impulsivity.

The questionnaire takes about 20 minutes to complete and will not ask participants for any information that would jeopardise anonymity.

Laura said: “The content of the questionnaire does have the potential to be distressing for some readers as they are asked to think about negative life events. So there is a small risk to taking part but support is available from two organisations assisting me. These are Farming Community Network and the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RSABI).

“However there are benefits for taking part. Along with the opportunity to make a monetary donation to two farming support organisations participants will also be providing valuable information. It is hoped that this information will help to address suicide in farming. They will also be helping to raise awareness of the difficulties experienced by farmers.”

So far, 53 people have clicked through to take part in Laura’s study. She needs 118 in total in order to apply the relevant statistical test and she’ll be recruiting nationwide up until 30 December 2018.

To take part in the study visit:

Participants have the option of completing either a paper or the online questionnaire. Paper questionnaires will be available at the NFU Regional Office in Skelmersdale and will come with a pre-paid postage envelope to enable people to return the questionnaire anonymously.

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Data will be stored in accordance with the University of Liverpool’s Research Data Management policy.

Laura studied psychology at Stirling University for four years before getting a support worker job in Hartlepool before progressing to be an assistant psychologist in Tyneside and Gateshead.

Now completing her doctorate, she works as a trainee clinical psychologist and is employed by Mersey Care NHS. She now helps older adults at the Woodlands Hospital .

Laura enlisted the assistance of the NFU via her parents’ group secretary Greg Proll who has been the group secretary for Stokesley since 1994. Greg put her in touch with the NFU North East Regional Director who then in turn put her in contact with former NFU Cheshire County Adviser Aarun Naik who has become her mentor.

Aarun Naik is a former NFU adviser now psychotherapist. Having worked in the wider industry for many years he became concerned about the issue of mental health in farming and was awarded a Nuffield Farming Scholarship to look in depth into the problem.