Farmers turning to vets for first response mental health support

UK farmers are relying on rural service providers for support around mental health a recent study has found. Over 60% of rural professionals have been in a situation where farmers expressed signs of poor mental health, yet only 11% had enough knowledge or confidence to respond, with vets emerging as the profession most farmers would prefer to confide in.

On Time to Talk Day the findings highlight the continuing challenge of poor mental health in the UK’s rural sector; a study from The Farm Safety Foundation found 81% of British farmers under 40 believe mental health was the biggest problem facing agriculture and the industry has the second highest rate for suicides.

Kate Tomlinson is the young rural professional behind this latest research. As a graduate surveyor at GSC Grays and farmer’s daughter, she found that despite several mental health organisations throughout the UK geared towards supporting farmers, farmers were often not accessing professional help and instead expressed their poor mental health to rural professionals who had little to no training in mental health.

Miss Tomlinson said: “There are several barriers to accessing help which are unique to the rural sector. Often farmers work in solitary conditions and cannot leave the farm to access support however loneliness and social isolation are two significant contributors to mental health. It’s therefore those who visit or work with farmers who may find themselves in situations where farmers express their poor mental health.

“The type of relationship farmers had with service providers was the prevailing factor regarding whether they would seek mental health support from them. However, many rural service providers would not feel comfortable offering mental health support to farmers due to lack of training. In particular, those professionals under 40 would feel less comfortable offering mental health support to older farmers, due to their perceived lack of life experience, or due to older farmer’s increased privacy and stigmatisation of mental health.”

In addition to the need for mental health training amongst vets and other rural services providers, Kate’s research confirmed that greater signposting is needed – from making leaflets available, to connecting charities and those in need through email or social media.

Miss Tomlinson adds: The stigma of and barriers around farmers and mental health are very specific to this sector which can lead to farmers excluding themselves from standard mental health services available, such as the ‘Five Year Forward View’, from the NHS, pledging £1bn to mental health services in England each year until 2021. With such a high incidence of mental health in the farming sector more research is needed to tackle this crisis.”

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.