This is a difficult one for me as I’m going to write about something that I’m not really sure I’m qualified for, and I desperately want to do it justice. I recently noticed a campaign on twitter highlighting mental health in the agricultural industry ( #FarmerMentalHealth ) And yes, I’ve lived my whole life within the farming community, but no I’ve never been affected by mental health issues. Down, stressed, worried, anxious, and occasionally overwhelmed, yes. But depressed, no.  There but by the grace of God go I, to misquote one W. Shakespeare. Because it’s a very real issue affecting many of us in agriculture, and I’ve seen it in family members, friends and neighbours.

In the US, farmer suicides number just under twice that of the general population. In the UK, a farmer a week commits suicide. In China, farmers are killing themselves daily to protest the government taking over prime agricultural land for urbanisation. In France a farmer dies by suicide every two days. Australia reports one farmer suicide every four days. India yearly reports more than 17627 farmer suicides (Newsweek 2014).

These are sobering statistics. But why is this happening? What’s making people so desperate that they’re taking their own lives?. Farming as an industry can be tough. Terribly so at times. We work extremely long hours, and often in isolation. If it wasn’t for my family, I could easily go for days without seeing another human soul. Livestock need feeding every single day of the year, and if you’re ill? Tough, they still need feeding. Got a bad back/ knees/ hips from heavy manual work and years of getting on and off a tractor? Tough, it still needs doing. These things can drag you down. Nothing does like chronic physical pain. Or perhaps it’s the financial pressure. An overdraft stretched to breaking point has an awful habit of giving you sleepless nights, further contributing to physical exhaustion. Prices are low in Agriculture worldwide at the moment, and many of my neighbours are struggling, or have left the industry for good in the last few years. Unable to put themselves, or their families through it anymore.

There’s the constant media criticism of us as an industry too. There are newspaper columnists and ‘environmentalists’ who make a very good living out of it,  and unfortunately, they have a large audience. It can be incredibly frustrating to repeatedly see damaging headlines and articles condemning our practices, and us as a community. Recent stories blaming upland sheep farmers for increased levels of flooding here in the U.K. are a prime example of this. There’s the burden of overzealous officialdom and red tape. Many older farmers can find this simply overwhelming. Think about how much the World’s changed in just the last 5 or 6 years. Everything’s online. If you don’t have a younger family member or friend available to help you, that must be quite terrifying.

There’s the stigma, and associated stereotypes of depression. Farming is a small community where everyone knows each other. No one wants a neighbour saying ‘Did you hear about so & so? Lost his/her marbles..’ The embarrassment at the perceived ‘weakness’ is enough to stop many from reaching out and asking for help. Many just put their heads down and work longer and longer hours to try to get through it, and avoid dealing with people.

But even if none of these things apply, perhaps you just simply have no one else to talk to. Or maybe you do, but you find that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t. It’s a British thing isn’t it? Stiff upper lip and all that. Grin and bear it, old chap. Put on a brave face. Bollocks. For years, until I met my wife, I fell into this category. Try as I might, I couldn’t find the words to express how I was feeling. It became a real issue for me. We don’t in my celtic family y’see? We just bottle up all our worries and every day concerns for months until we explode. But my wife, as anyone who’s met her will testify, is a ‘talker’. She communicates. It’s her thing. Being silent in her presence frankly just isn’t an option. And God bless her for it, because being able to talk with her about my everyday stresses and concerns has helped me to be able to better find perspective, and to become a better man for it.

But not everyone’s as lucky as I am. There’s a side of farming that people really don’t see, where men, women and families are struggling on a daily basis, and are falling through the cracks and need help. And it’s up to us all to look out for the signs of this in our neighbours, friends and family members, because no one’s immune to this illness. The first step is to simply listen to a person’s problems. Talking nearly always helps. There are practical things you can do such as making sure the person is eating well and not drinking too much alcohol. And if these simple things don’t work, try to get them to seek help through their Doctor. There are some wonderful organisations out there such as:

  • Papyrus, the national charity for the prevention of young suicide.
  • The Farming Community Network, which answers phone calls in person between 7am & 11pm
  • Young Minds, the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.
  • The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Fund (R.A.B.I), which helps farmers and farmworkers of any age and has a contact number staffed during office hours.
  • The Samaritans, who have a free helpline available round the clock on 116123.
  • Farming Comunity Network (FCN) who give practical & pastoral support to the farming community. Available on 03000 111 999 from 7am – 11pm.
  • NFYFC are running a national campaign #RuralPlus to highlight the issue in younger members of the farming community. 
  • The Addington Fund. A farming charity dedicated to supporting Britain’s viable farming businesses & their families in times of crisis.

And there are many more. Social media can also help. It’s an easy way to connect with like-minded people, without having to physically get off the farm. Sometimes talking to a friend, or even a stranger, on one of the various networks or platforms rather than one who knows you and your family in the ‘real world’, can be easier.

Nobody looks after their own like the agricultural community. In times of trouble, we circle the wagons and help each other. Always have, and always will. And these are certainly troubled times that we’re living in. So let’s do that. Let’s look out for the signs and help each other, because none of us really knows the burdens that our fellow farmers are bearing behind closed farmhouse doors.



Dad Dancing In The Dark

You can’t be cool as a Dad. You just can’t. You check any coolness that you may once upon a time have had in at the maternity ward when you leave to take your newborn home for the first time. You grin like an idiot as you carry the surprisingly heavy baby in her shiny new car seat that’s built like a small tank through the hospital, smiling at passers by – ‘Yes, she’s mine, I fathered her’ you think, secure and happy in your absurd posturing  masculinity.

But despite technically becoming a Father the moment that your first child is born, which in my case was just over 6 years ago now, when do you actually become a ‘DAD’? Because, and it’s taken me completely by surprise, I am emphatically becoming one right now. My Wife has noticed it, and takes great pleasure in pointing it out, and I am suddenly hyper-aware of it.

I have begun, with comical regularity, to unconsciously repeat myself. Only last week as we drove past a village pub not so far from here, I commented ‘we should go there one night.’ Apparently I have said this the last 4 times we’ve gone past said pub. I have no memory at all of this.

I have a chair. A CHAIR! The most Daddish thing of all time. It’s in our living room and the kids have strict instructions not to jump up and down on it. (The little shitbags do anyway of course, but not when I’m around. I conducted a full interrogation recently when I found biscuit crumbs on it). I never had any kind of chair strategy I should point out; not once when my Wife was pregnant with our first child did I think ‘Yes! Now I’ll get my own chair’, it just somehow inexplicably happened.

Next to DAD’S CHAIR on a given night, might be a pair of well worn and comfortable suede leather moccasin-style slippers that I just happen to own and love these days. (Oh that feeling of kicking off your boots after a long day and putting them on!) I had no slipper game at all until recently. I had nothing against them, they just weren’t my bag. They were for old fellas. DADS. I don’t even know where these slippers came from, they just magically appeared one day. And I love them as much as my Children. Maybe more.

I laugh at my own crap jokes. Manically. Hysterically. Both when I post them on social media, and in real life when i say them out loud. I vividly remember my Dad doing this on a regular basis. Splitting his sides as my sister and I groaned at another weak effort. Now I’m doing it too. WTF is happening to me?

I have a got a ‘Dad voice’. A DAD VOICE! It actually changes on it’s own when I’m telling the kids off for some minor infraction of the house rules. It drops several octaves until I sound like a Welsh version of Barry White. And I address them with both their first and middle names when I do this too. Who does this? DADS, that’s who.

I dance like an absolute Dickhead. Vigorously and often. But to be fair, I’ve always done this. It’s just that becoming a DAD has completely legitimised it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the very best things about being a DAD.

I’ve never been particularly competitive. I’ve always been a bit laid back to get worked up about these things. Until now. At my eldest’s first sports day last Summer I was momentarily tempted to take out the 4 year old who was beating her by a yard in the egg and spoon race. I compromised by shouting encouragement at my Daughter so loudly that I distracted her and she dropped the bloody egg and came in 3rd. I didn’t speak to her for a week. (I’m joking obvs. It was only two days).

But even after all these giveaways, it’s the things I’ve started to regularly say that are the real killer. The DAD phrases and pithy soundbites that my Dad before me used, and his Dad before him too.  Handed down from Father to Son through the generations and mists of time like sacred relics, and now in 2016, it’s my turn. It’s. My. Turn.

‘Because I said so’ was the first of course. It just came out of my mouth one day a few years back to my great shock, when my Daughter had asked why she had to put her toys away. That’ll teach her eh?.  I say ‘Less talking, more eating’ to them all as they jabber away like monkeys at dinner time. On an almost daily basis I rampage around the house turning down radiators, switching off lights, and closing doors whilst yelling ‘Were you Kids born in a barn?’, and I give advice in the form of specialist Dad idioms like ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’. Jesus wept.

I haven’t used my own Dad’s personal and oft-repeated favourite ‘This isn’t a holiday camp y’know’ yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Because this is the frightening thing of course. I’m not just turning into A DAD, i’m turning into MY DAD. And not only in character either; I’m starting for the first time to look like him. I’ve always been more like my Mum’s side of the family. Fair hair and blue eyes. But now at the age of 38 and rapidly going grey, I’m physically starting to morph into him. I can tell you that it’s quite the shock at 3 in the morning when half asleep and semi-naked you stumble into the bathroom and see your Dad looking at you in the bloody mirror.

But you know what? Despite all these things; the repeating myself, the jokes, the dancing, the voice, the competitiveness, the sayings, all that stuff – It’s all good. I’m at peace with it. I’m fine. Because being a Father (and now a DAD too) is without a shadow of a doubt the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. Nothing in my life has ever come close to the unbridled happiness it brings me on a daily basis.

Except for maybe sitting in my own chair after a long day on the farm, with my slippers on.