As the Farm Safety Foundation's #MindYourHead week gets underway, the NFU has joined the campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues among its members and help farmers recognise the importance of making their mental health and wellbeing a priority.
NFU Vice President Stuart Roberts said that while farming is a fantastic sector full of incredible, innovative, resilient people, like any business sector it comes with its challenges. He said:
“Like many business owners, farmers can struggle with stress, worries and anxiety, and with the isolated nature of farming these feelings can often be amplified.
“Dealing with mental health issues can be incredibly difficult but help is at hand. For many people, the first step is recognising when there is a problem and talking to someone about it and, where needed, getting professional help. Thankfully, the farming community has a multitude of strong support networks such as RABI, FCN and YANA. And 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.
“I would urge anyone struggling to cope with any issue to open up to someone they trust. We can all do more to listen and make time for each other. There are also plenty of ways we can all try and maintain good health and wellbeing – but this must be something that works for us individually.
“I am determined to play my part in #MindYourHead week. For me, this means taking time away from the workplace and away from the business itself. This year I have pledged to spend one hour every week doing something new or different from my usual routine – something that gives me time to myself to recharge or to spend with family and friends. This may not work for everyone; the key is to take that first important step.”
The Little Book of Minding Your Head
The Farm Safety Foundation has created a pocked sized publication offering practical support for those working in agriculture, outlining what mental health actually means and the ways you can support others through challenging times.
How to spot the warning signs
- Difficulty making even simple decisions
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in appetite
- No interest in leisure activities or hobbies
- Aggressive or irritable behaviour
- Excessive drinking or drug misuse
- Sudden mood changes
- Giving away possessions
- Talking about death
- Feeling like a burden
- Feeling hopeless, like there is no solution to problems
- Becoming or feeling isolated
- Engaging in high-risk behaviour
- Seeming to have recovered after a period of depression
The NFU has been highlighting the issue of mental health with government for some time. Mr Roberts has raised the issue of funding for mental health treatment in the NHS with the former Chief Medical Officer and Defra ministers.
He has also spoken to Lord Gardiner, who is the Defra representative on the team to develop a strategy to combat loneliness in society. Lord Gardiner has looked at how poor broadband and mobile phone coverage affect rural areas, as well as how village halls could reduce rural isolation.
In particular, Mr Roberts has highlighted the issue of mental health in the rural community. He said:
“In general the industry is made up of lots of people, some of who are like me, we are butch, macho blokes, we don’t have anxiety, we don’t have worries, we don’t have concerns, we don’t have fears – well, yes we do. We forget that there’s a question mark at the end of ‘how are you?’ And we have all got to get better at that because it will come into very sharp focus as we start to see big changes."
There are many charities that offer help to farmers, and in September 2019 the NFU brought together more than 40 support groups to work together so that they can support the sector. The NFU will be holding another charities summit in March 2020.
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