ANNA TRUESDALE | Mental Health in Farming
Hello again folks! I’d like to start this with a little nod of appreciation to all the lovely people who got in touch to congratulate me on my first blog post. When I said Instagram is a community, I meant it, and it’s always so nice to have such kind words of encouragement sent my way!
Anyway, it’s finally March, and the farm is (slowly) starting to warm up. Lambing is nearly finished and it’s been nice to finally get ewes and lambs out of the shed and into the fields. It’s amazing how much a little bit of sun around the farm can help lift your mood after what’s felt like the longest winter in the whole of eternity!
It’s a sensitive topic, but I actually wanted to use this month’s blog post to delve a little bit deeper into ‘moods’. Mental health can be a difficult conversation, most of us struggle - I know I certainly have – but often the ‘tough guy’ in us overrides our conscious desire to talk about how we’re feeling. This becomes a slippery slope in an already stressful industry, and it’s a chain of events that needs to be discussed more so that signs can be recognised and dealt with early.
Every 7 days, one farmer in the UK dies by suicide.
That’s a real life statistic, that’s a real life scenario. That’s one husband, one wife, one mother, one father, one son, one daughter. One family waking up every week with one less person at the table for breakfast. It’s one parlour missing a milker, one lambing shed missing a shepherd, one tractor with an empty seat.
Farming is a synonymously dangerous industry. We pay heed to Health and Safety daily, we don’t get too close to a bull, we never go near live cables, we get someone to hold a ladder when we climb up - but what do we do to look after our heads?
We face pressures on the farm every day - and it’s not the same pressure that you might get in a bustling 9-5 office. It’s the pressure of making decisions that could mean life or death for your animals or between profit and loss in your business. It can be lonely, we can be overworked and we’re often at the mercy of outside forces, dictating year on year just how much all our hard work is actually worth.
I recently asked folk what they felt were the biggest pressures in farming. It wasn’t surprising that a lot of people quoted ‘weather’ as a huge stressor in their daily lives. Worrying whether the sun will ever come out or if the ground will ever dry up. Unfortunately, the weather isn’t something we can change. Yes, we can do our part in minimising our environmental impact, slowing climate change and reducing the frequency or likelihood of extreme weather - but ultimately weather is out of our control. Learning to accept this is the hard part, and just knowing in the depths of winter that there will be a spring, can help.
Another frequent stressor (alongside money pressure and loneliness) was working with family. This is an area that can be extremely difficult to talk about because by opening up, it’s easy for more conflict to arise. “Working with my Dad, who doesn’t want to change things”, “pressure to work for no money at home”, “lack of respect – both ways”, “expectation to do everything” – are a few of the responses I received. Unfortunately, it’s a subject area to which I have no magic answers, and I recognise that its difficult because, as it’s family, it’s hard to get an opportunity to discuss concerns with anyone else. But communication is vital here, and it’s important that the communication is respected. Perhaps, if you’re the younger generation, consider the sacrifices that the older generation have made to get the farm or the business to the point that it is today – it can be difficult for them to give up the reigns after having to hold on tightly for so many years. And if you’re the older generation, consider the opportunity that the younger generation are asking for. Ultimately, we are the future and it’s encouraging when our ideas are valued by someone who, in our eyes, is a ‘Professional Farmer’.
As an industry, we’re exceptionally good at looking after livestock, but we know when it’s time to call the vet. We can recognise a field that needs fertiliser to get it growing, but we’re never scared to ask the agronomist. We know how to change a fuel filter, but don’t mind taking our tractors to the mechanic for a full service.
We need to approach our mental health with the same common-sense attitude that we do in farming and so I’d like to share a few of the ways that folk suggested they dealt with pressure. This list is not extensive, and ultimately, dealing with YOUR mental health is something that will be personal to YOU.
- Exercise (sports, walking, the gym – activities that make you focus on the task at hand)
- Time off (a hard one, but shouldn’t have to be!)
- Writing lists (prioritising jobs)
- Doing the jobs you enjoy (still feels like you’re getting work done)
- Going to Macra/Young Farmers
- Talking to those who understand the pressures of farming
- Seeing non-farming friends
- Turning of your phone for a while
Just like asking for the vet, the agronomist or the mechanic, there’s no shame in asking for help with your mental health.
There’s so much more that could be said and I hope this post will help to start a conversation that never ends. Because mental health is important today, it’s important tomorrow, and every day after that. We’re a special bunch, us farmers - we need to look out for each other.
If you want to talk to someone;
Rural Support NI – 0800 138 1678
The Samaritans (ROI) 1850 60 90 90
Farm Community Netwrok - FarmWell https://farmwell.org.uk/
Speak soon – Anna x
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