Farmers, mind your head

In 1964 Bob Dylan sang ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ and today this song holds particularly true for rural life and the farming sector. These areas have seen incessant cutting of subsidies, Brexit, and changes in the law that have not only required changing practices but have impacted incomes too. There’s also greater pressure to diversify in order to survive, as many face uncertainty about the post-Brexit future.

These enormous stressors affect the wellbeing of us all – and farmers especially. Sadly, the consequences of poor mental health in farmers is reflected in the number of farming suicides, as well as injuries incurred on farms. Official statistics state there were 83 suicides in 2018 amongst people working in agriculture and related trades in England and Wales.

Mental Health – Biggest threat to the industry

Mental health is a serious issue for everyone, including farmers and stock-workers. A recent report by the Farm Safety Foundation suggested mental-health issues among farmers are of increasing concern: the report found that 84% of farmers under 40 believe poor mental health to be the biggest problem facing the industry – up from
81% in 2018.

The report also found that 85% of young farmers believe there’s a link between mental health and the overall safety of farms. With farming continuing to have the poorest safety record of any UK occupation, this is of obvious concern. According to the Farm Safety Foundation, threats to farmers’ mental health include ‘smiling depression’ (someone who masks their symptoms), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), loneliness, and rural isolation.

The healing outdoors

To raise awareness of the link between mental health and farm safety, the Farm Safety Foundation also run an annual ‘Mind Your Head’ week in February each year. And, fittingly, this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (10–16 May) is centred on nature and the mental health benefits of sharing the natural environment. The week provides an opportunity for everyone to talk about different aspects of mental health and the help and advice that’s available. Millions have experienced a decline in mental health during the pandemic, so for Mental Health Awareness Week we’re being encouraged to make ourselves a priority. Free advice all year round is provided by Mind, The Samaritans and AHDB.