Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Health warning for farmers as UK prepares for life after EU

March 5, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

Farmers are being advised to look after their mental health and well-being – amid warnings that Brexit poses an unprecedented challenge for the industry.

The Farm Safety Foundation said mental health risk factors associated with agriculture included long working hours, often in isolation. Many farmers were under significant financial pressure, often taking on significant debt to purchase the land and equipment required to operate.

In addition, farmers were constantly vulnerable to unusual events and circumstances that could impact their bottom line and stress levels, said the charity. This ranged from extreme weather and natural disasters to major uncertainties like Brexit.

Foundation manager Stephanie Berkeley said: “One thing has become evident, farmer health and wellbeing can not, and should not, be ignored – by any of us. Simply pretending the issue does not exist or has no impact on the industry is not acceptable.”

Stressful event

Brexit was one of the biggest and possibly most stressful events facing the industry, said Ms Berkeley. Previous times of stress – such as the BSE crisis in 1986 and foot-and-mouth in 2001 –  had seen a sharp increase in the number of farmer suicides as incomes declined.

Calling for better awareness of mental health issues, Ms Berkeley said: “Learning from past experiences, we need to be prepared to support our farmers through this time and this is what we are great at, as an industry.”

Recent research by the charity reveals that 81% of farmers under 40 believe mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today. Some 92% believe that promoting good mental health is crucial if lives are to be saved and farmers kept safe.

Last month’s Mind Your Head week, which took place from 11-15 February, sought to highlight the help available for farmers and farm workers who feel under pressure. It included a special focus on building personal resilience for farmers what many view as a critical time.

Collective responsibility

Speaking at the start of the week, Ms Berkeley explained: “As an industry, we have a collective responsibility to do something about the issue of poor mental health and the risk of suicide and we believe that every one of us has a role to play.”

In most cases, a farmer’s place of business was also his or her home, meaning there was often no easy way to get away from the workload. This could add to the financial pressure felt by many growers and livestock producers.

The Farm Safety Foundation is funded by NFU Mutual. Many farmers have few opportunities to meet up with fellow farmers to relieve pressures with a moan about the weather or the latest outpourings from politicians, said the insurer’s rural affairs specialist Tim Price.

“Traditional social meeting points for farmers like auction markets, pubs and farm meetings are now few and far between and the pressure of running a modern farm means few have time to stand around for a chat.”

He added: “It has become clear that farmers must look after their mental wellbeing in the same way they guard PTO shafts on tractors and throw out dodgy ladders. We’re fully behind the foundation’s drive to tackle rural isolation on mental health issues among the farming community.”

Help is available by visiting the www.yellowwellies.org website.