Big Farming Survey reveals high depression and anxiety rates among farmers

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute (RABI) have announced the results of their Big Farming Survey, which investigated the health and wellbeing of the farming community in England and Wales in the 2020s, reports agricultural journalist Meghan Taylor.

The survey is a collation of data from over 15,000 responses to questions answered by people who work across the various farming and agricultural sectors, focussing largely on depression and anxiety rates within the farming community, in accordance with farming sectors and individuals ages and genders.

Women were found to have the highest levels of depression, with 43% of women stating that they were either probably or possibly depressed. Anxiety levels also followed a similar theme in women, with 58% admitting to having mild, moderate or severe anxiety.

Anxiety levels across the entire farming community were also considerably high, with almost half of respondents (47%) experiencing some form of anxiety. Depression rates in farming were also of a concerning level, with 36% of participants being possibly or probably depressed.

The prevalence of depression and anxiety is higher in some types of farming; the highest figure came from the specialist pig sector, as 47% of those in this industry said they were probably or possibly depressed. The second highest rate of depression was split between those in the LFA grazing livestock and dairy sector – 39% of respondents in these sectors were probably or possibly depressed.

The high depression rates in specific farming sectors also paralleled the data gathered on anxiety levels in specific farming sectors, as farming people in specialist pigs, dairy, and LFA grazing livestock industries are more likely to experience moderate or severe anxiety.

Women in farming were found to be more likely than men to experience poor mental health and wellbeing, while working-age farming people (16-64) also experience poorer mental health and wellbeing than those over the age of 65.

Feeling lonely was most prominent in younger farmers, with 16% of 16 to 24-year-olds saying they do not confide in others and prefer to keep things to themselves. However, the survey’s data indicated that people in the farming community experience similar levels of loneliness to the broader UK population. One in four farming people occasionally feel lonely, with 14% sometimes and 4% often or always lonely.

More positively, 50% of survey respondents remain optimistic about the future of their farm business, while 59% said that they believed their business is sustainable over the next five years. Furthermore, while some farm sectors had concerningly poor levels of mental wellbeing, other sectors such as general cropping and cereals had significantly lower depression rates of 30%. The specialist poultry sector also had the lowest average number of stress factors, with only 4.3.

Following an address by RABI chief executive, Alicia Chivers, at the survey results launch in Birmingham on October 14, the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research Team, Dr Rebecca Wheeler and Professor Matt Lobley, presented their results to saw 70 influential representatives from the agricultural.

RABI corporate partnership manager, Suzy Deeley then shared further insight on five key stats that the industry must respond to, including the high depression and anxiety levels, and the 52% of the farming community who experience pain and discomfort.

Ms Deeley commented on the survey’s findings, stating that “despite the many challenges facing our community, farming people continue to be incredibly resilient and this is something we should focus on. We owe it to every farming person to use this evidence to take action to improve farmer wellbeing.”

“RABI will use the results to inform the evolution of our services and welcome others to participate in shaping future farming support,” said Ms Deeley, who explained that RABI will soon be launching pilots of three new support schemes. These include an accredited, bespoke farming mental health first aid training service, access to in-person mental health support, and further trials of RABI’s Community Pillars initiative.

Matt Lobley, research lead said: “The Big Farming Survey has delivered an unprecedented evidence base that has given far greater insight into the realities of life on the farm. There is now a unique opportunity to build on the findings which have been presented.”

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