The past few years have undoubtedly proved challenging for the UK’s farming industry.
Like many in the country, farmers are also struggling with spiralling costs.
The cost of fertiliser has trebled in price, red diesel – the diesel farmers use, has doubled in price and, with the current climate, cost of living, loss of BPS (basic payment scheme) and more environmental pressures, the impact on farmers, their business and their mental health is giving charities like the Farm Safety Foundation real cause for concern.
A recent study by leading rural charity the Farm Safety Foundation (Yellow Wellies) revealed that poor mental health among farmers and agricultural workers is of growing concern and has a direct impact on safety on farms. In a sample of 450 farmers under 40, 94% agreed that poor mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing the industry today.
Last week, the Farm Safety Foundation focused on the issue through their sixth annual Mind Your Head campaign which brings together over 300 farming organisations and charities across the UK.
The campaign will continue to break down the stigma attached to poor mental health in the farming sector and recognise the current pressures on farmers and how it impacts on their mental health and their ability to farm safely.
In an industry that continues to have the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK, making sure farmers are looking after their physical and mental wellbeing has never been more important. 22 farm workers lost their lives in fatal farm incidents in 2021/2022, however, there were 36 suicides registered in England and Wales by those working in the farming and agricultural industry in 2021 according to the Office of National Statistics.
In the same study, 90% of young farmers agreed that farm safety and mental health are directly linked however, the Foundation’s research also revealed some alarming results about those registering lower mental wellbeing scores.
In the study, using the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scores (WEMWBS), farmers with lower mental wellbeing scores were less likely to take steps to stay safe on the farm (e.g. wear Personal Protective Equipment PPE, carry out risk assessments).
They were also more likely to admit to taking risks, less likely to think about the consequences and less likely to take personal responsibility for their safety.
Stephanie Berkeley, manager of the Farm Safety Foundation said: “Our research shows that levels of mental health in farming are deteriorating and it is being propelled by – in addition to many other things – the current political climate, stress caused by COVID and its aftermath, spiralling costs and continuing barriers to adequate care for many people living and working in the rural community.
“Farmers also recognise that there are barriers to ‘opening up’ about their mental health however, having ‘no one to talk to’ was not seen as a significant barrier.
“This is because we have fantastic farming charities and rural support groups operating in the UK.
“However, calls to rural support helplines have increased or become more complex over the past three years.
“For example, in Wales, Tir Dewi have noted five to eight times the volume of calls to their helpline and The DPJ Foundation have made 47% more counselling referrals.
“In Northern Ireland, Rural Support have reported a 40% increase in calls to the support line; and, while call volumes to the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and RSABI in Scotland have been consistent, the referrals and interactions have become more complex and require more of a multi-agency approach.
“Urgent action is needed to support the ongoing mental health of our farmers.
“We need to take the pressure off these rural support groups and charities who are increasingly relied upon to provide support for those in crisis situations.”
Recognising the signs and symptoms of someone struggling with their mental health and at crisis point can be difficult, especially when they are the person that everyone else depends on for support, as Andy and Lynda Eadon of Warwickshire unfortunately know.
They lost their only child to suicide and they say it is an experience no parent should go through.
At 22 years old, Leonard (Len) Eadon was a popular young farmer, completing his studies at Harper Adams University with his whole life ahead of him however, in January 2022, Len took his own life.
Lynda says: “When Leonard died, it became a very strong feeling that we had to do something to bring people in the farming community together to talk. This is why Andy devised Five-a-Day Challenge – five very simple things you can do every day to look after your mental health.
“Over 18,000 of these bright red challenge cards have been printed and distributed to markets, local young farmers clubs and through the NFU Student Farmer magazine. We also commissioned 2,000 copies of the Farm Safety Foundation’s Little Book of Minding Your Head to be printed and distributed to YFCs to support the new mental health curve module that they have developed.”