Mind Your Head campaign helping farmers through tough times

The Farm Safety Foundation is highlighting the importance of farmers looking after their mental health in the second Mind Your Head week which takes place from 11-15 February 2019
calendar icon 11 February 2019
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There are a number of mental health risk factors associated with agriculture. Farmers work long hours, often in isolation. They can be under significant financial pressure, often required to take on significant debt just to purchase the land and equipment required to operate. And in most cases, a farmer’s place of business is also his or her home, meaning there is no easy way to get away from the workload.

In addition, farmers are constantly vulnerable to unusual events and circumstances that can impact their bottom line and stress levels - from weather and natural disasters to major uncertainties like Brexit.

This week the Farm Safety Foundation is asking the farming community to Mind Your Head with a campaign to raise awareness and tackle the stigma of this growing issue in farming. Recent research by the charity reveals that 81 percent of farmers under 40 believe that mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today and 92 percent believe that promoting good mental health is crucial if lives are to be saved and farmers kept safe.

Throughout the week, the Farm Safety Foundation will be reminding farmers and farming families that Valentine’s week; when we are supposed to celebrate love and togetherness, can sometimes highlight how different, alone, or low we feel and if that is the case, help is available. The Foundation will bring together key people, organisations and other charities to raise awareness of this mounting issue in the industry and build a community of support and resources for those affected.

The Foundation’s website www.yellowwellies.org and social media channels will share stories, advice and key messages and a new hero film A Quiet Night Inn will be released today on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

One person who has offered his support for the campaign is Jonathan Glen, young farmer and student at Harper Adams University. At 18 years of age, Jonathan left his home, family and friends to travel to New Zealand to work on a 200 hectare dairy farm managing a herd of 600. Within weeks, and at the height of milk production, Jonathan was left in charge of the herd and soon realised that he was quite depressed. The situation was compounded by the isolation he felt on a farm in the middle of nowhere with no family or close friends nearby and his identity changed as a result.

Thankfully Jonathan was able to recognise this rollercoaster of depression from similar symptoms experienced by a friend who showed him there was a way to deal with it through self-help and so began his journey and importantly, as he says, he started talking.

On his return to the UK, he enrolled at Harper Adams University and recently undertook a massive challenge, driving 15,000km to Mongolia in a Mazda MX5 to raise money for the Farming Community Network (FCN). FCN is a charity that supports farmers and families within the farming community through difficult times. The charity has a network of over 400 volunteers across England and Wales, many involved in farming with a real understanding of the issues farm workers and farming families regularly face. According to Jonathan: “Mental health in agriculture matters.

“Having had my own battle with mental health while farming, I appreciate the seriousness of the cause.”

Stephanie Berkeley, who leads the Farm Safety Foundation said: “Last year’s campaign was welcomed by the farming community but one thing has become evident, farmer health and wellbeing cannot, 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.

“This year we are mounting the week long campaign in the run up to one of the biggest and possibly most stressful events facing the industry – Brexit.

“In previous times of stress such as the BSE crisis in 1986 and the outbreak of foot and mouth in 2001, there was a sharp increase in the number of farmer suicides as farm incomes declined. 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.

“This Mind Your Head, we will continue to raise awareness of what the next generation consider the ‘biggest hidden problem’ in the industry and highlight the help available. This year we will also put a special focus on building personal resilience for farmers at this critical time. 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.”

For more information on ‘Mind Your Head’ or any of the organisations mentioned in the article, visit www.yellowwellies.org or follow @yellowwelliesUK on Twitter/Facebook using the hashtag #MindYourHead.

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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