The Farm Safety Foundation looks at how farmers can improve their mental health

A SMALL independent charity aims to preserve and protect the physical and mental wellbeing of the next generation of farmers.

Over the years, The Farm Safety Foundation’s research, unique education programme and annual Farm Safety Week and Mind Your Head campaigns have helped to address risk-taking and the stigma of poor mental health in the agricultural sector across the UK.

The Foundation’s manager is Stephanie Berkeley who recently appeared on Countryfile. From Donegal in Ireland, Stephanie’s friends were either farmers or fishermen, equally dangerous industries.

In 2014, she moved to Stratford-upon-Avon where she has developed and grown the Farm Safety Foundation, its education programme, and award-winning campaigns. Stephanie is a qualified Mental Health First Aider and author of The Little Book of Minding Your Head and represents the UK on Safety Culture and Risk Management in Agriculture (SACURIMA).

There are some startling statistics of the dangers of working in farming and agriculture and, more importantly, how the nature and ilk of farming puts overwhelming stress on farmers and their families, impinging on mental wellbeing.

While, UK farmers are renowned for the attention they give to their livestock, crops and machinery, it appears they do not have such a good track record when it comes to taking care of themselves and their own wellbeing.

The industry faces many stress factors, which are placing increasing pressure on workers and putting them at greater risk of mental ill health.

These include extended amounts of time working in isolation, a blurring between work and home life, and financial uncertainty. Last year has seen the additional impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit uncertainty.

While the UK agricultural industry employs 476,000 people – only 1.5 per cent of the working population – it accounts for 20 per cent of workplace deaths – showing the dangers of the world farmers live and work in.

Last year, 21 farm workers lost their lives due to accidents in the workplace, however, equally tragic is that, in 2019, there were 102 suicides among people working in farming and agricultural-related trades in England and Wales, with a further 21 in Scotland, totalling 133 in GB during that period.

Yellow wellies logo

Yellow wellies logo

The Farm Safety Foundation’s research revealed that 88 per cent of young farmers (under 40) believe that mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today.

In 2018, they launched a campaign – Mind Your Head – to raise awareness of this growing issue in the industry and, since then, one thing has become evident; farmer health and wellbeing cannot, and should not, be ignored – by any of us.

February 2021 will have seen the fourth time that this annual campaign will have been run.

Stephanie says: “It is encouraging to see more discussions about mental health, more awareness of the various mental health conditions and more emphasis on the support available to the farming community, however, more still needs to be done.

"We need to recognise that the job can, and does, impact on the wellbeing of farmers and their families and poor mental health can have a direct and deadly impact on the job. This isn’t someone else’s responsibility, this is on our watch and, in these challenging times, it’s down to every one of us to look out for our friends, colleagues, neighbours and ourselves.”

Mental health issues are a normal part of life. In any one year approximately one in four of us experience at least one mental health issue. Mental health, just like our physical health, can vary from day to day. Issues can appear because of experiences in both our personal and working lives – or they can just happen.

When The Farm Safety Foundation asked 450 young farmers across the UK in 2018 if they believed that mental health was the biggest hidden danger facing the industry, 81 per cent of respondents agreed however, over the past two years, noise around mental health in the industry has continued to grow and people are starting to recognise the real impact of this issue.

Another interesting result revealed in last year’s survey was that 85 per cent of young farmers agree that there is a definite link between mental health and farm safety, and this is something that the Foundation continue to highlight.

Stephanie sums up by saying: “This is our industry and each one of us living and working in it has a responsibility to look out for each other and look after each other and do what we can to start these conversations and improve these shocking statistics before it’s too late.”

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