Help

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. addingtonfund.org.uk

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.

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Author: fatherandfarmer

Livestock & Arable Farmer, living in the sticks with a Wife & 4 young Daughters, trying to make sense of it all..

29 thoughts on “Help”

  1. Great post Will, it’s similar in theme to one I’m thinking of writing. I noticed recently when at an awards event that a lot of writers said they struggled with mental health and of course, we know farmers do too. I’m beginning to think that, for most of us, it’s normal to experience it at some stage during our lives.
    The one huge silver lining of experiencing depression, in my experience, is that once it passes, it’s possible to really appreciate the beauty in the ordinary on a daily basis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lorna. I’m sure it’s a problem in most industries, there seems to be such a lot of pressure on people these days, both in their work & personal lives.
      Great point, if you can get through it and out the other side, it must really change your perspective..

      Like

  2. Excellent explanation of the things that can make farming extra stressful. Yes, it is tough and the ultimate form of stress is being accountable for something outside your control, which is farming to a T.

    And there’s a lot at stake when things go wrong. Losing (or the worry of it) a farm is not as simple as losing a job. There’s often a lot of history and attachment with the land, it’s normally home as well, and some farmers haven’t ever experienced town life.

    Put all that together and you have the perfect storm for mental illness triggered by stress.

    Good on you for raising it, Will.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. My mum farms alone on a medium sized farm, myself and siblings help around our full time jobs, but if she didn’t have us, the computerisation of everything would finish her, it’s the one thing that totally stresses her out and upsets her. Bearing in mind she’s nearly seventy and five foot tall, nothing phases her, tractor driving, handling cattle and sheep, coping with lambing, the total inflexibility of the computerisation of forms etc would break her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She sounds like a hell of a woman and I’d like to meet her. It’s a familiar tale sadly, I think average age in the Industry is something like 66. These things must be so terribly daunting..

      Like

  4. You’re right, RABI and FCN are excellent and the number of UK farming suicides would much higher if it were not for them.

    In the end, I do not know why the incidence of depression and ultimately suicide is so high amongst farmers other than the reasons that you give. For many of us who get into that situation, often it is the animals themselves which keep us going – their very dependency upon us is both an obligation and a privilege. It is perhaps them which keeps us clambering in and out of the tractor to open the gate, drive in, close the gate again and then get out to open the silage bale – all in the pissing rain and axle-deep mud. Those faces of expectation which turn towards us is often what makes us smile through whatever is passing through our minds at the time.

    Perhaps part of the suicide thing is that we play a daily part in the life-and-death decisions of who should go off to market or directly to slaughter, and who does not. So perhaps it is not such a big leap of logic to apply the same principles to ourselves. I know that TB testing is probably the greatest stressor for most cattle men (and women). On the day, the cattle can tell that you are wound up and then they start to play up as well, making the whole job even harder. They know something is wrong and who can blame them. TB is the most vicious curse facing British farmers today and it is not helped by those who not only make money from their division and their wilful ignorance, but are determined that their political agenda must be given the maximum publicity. That alone still drives me up the wall, even though I am out of farming now.

    Farming is about the most highly regulated of all industries, so the number of people who want a shout on the running of the farm, without any financial or legal responsibility, is another stressor. I added it up for farmers in South Dorset once, and I think I got to about 20 different bodies who think they have the right to tell you how to go about your business. The RPA are not helpful in this respect. They combine officiousness with incompetence; and somehow, it always results in a reduction to your farm income.

    But the compensation is in many things which the farm gives us – the land which we till and where we know almost every stone and hummock and spring. Where we know every mood that the land yields in all weathers and at every hour of the day. To emerge from the lambing shed at 3 am in the light of a bright half moon in early January, and to hear every vixen calling for a mate and every owl calling in the copse, is a privilege that cannot be equalled.

    So, keep it up and don’t let the bastards grind you down.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for starting the conversation.

        I forgot to mention that you have a wonderfully supportive wife and family. This makes all the difference as to whether you make it through to the other side or not. It’s another wonderful reason for carrying on.

        Like

  5. There are also Agricultural Chaplains in most rural counties supporting the farming community. I am in Cumbria doing this work and have supported several with mental health issues and some who are suicidal. It is so true about talking it does help.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. It is such a shame that there still seems to be stigma attached to mental illness. The use of the phrase ‘so and so has lost his marbles’ is not one I’ve heard in many years. This sort of language perpetuates the myth that mental illness is ‘a bad thing’.
    The reality is that mental illness takes many forms, stress is one of them. Being stressed for a long period can lead to depression. As it did in my case.
    However, having someone to talk to, especially someone who can recognise when you are under mental strain is such a blessing. I hope that anyone in the farming community who is suffering from mental health issues will call the numbers you have listed or find someone to confide in. Talking about your problem is one of the first steps to getting yourself better.
    A problem shared . . .

    Like

    1. You’re right Bill, it is a shame. Hopefully the more we can all talk about the issue openly, the more people suffering won’t feel so alone..

      Like

  7. Good article but are farmers doing all they could to help.themselves. of course the framework and paper work has to be done but if farming is for food Wyoming are Irish farmers into supermarkets every week. Farmers are being taken for granted by several vested interest groups,ie,politicians,pro sensors,supermarkets and appear easily taken in. Depression is a sensitive issue and the pressures farmers are under mainly stem from these three areas. Farmers need to find ways of empowering themselves ie have their own food and drop as much of the retail cost of production as possible. Retail sales should at least be examined. By employing the modern methods farmers have brought retail cost in the gate. Farming numbers are dropping all over the first world and scaling up is the only advice left from gov approved experts. This is a doomsday scenario and can be reversed. By not going to the supermarkets farmers would have far more influence than marching about them. Farmers have a huge advantage,ie,the farms as an aesthetic and marketing tool. The most contented farmers I know ‘re those in Permaculture and selling food to their own customers. Some farms are v isolated yes but I offer this as a possible cure. Applied individually this is massively empowering. Your own food on your own table will show people you will not be taken for granted any more. MICK

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I had to leave a comment after reading this. My family on my mum’s side are market gardeners. I’ve always thought it a very hard life, but at the same time, they are the most grounded and generous and gregarious people I know. I love their attitude to life, which is work hard and get things done! Up at five in the morning and out until dark. Your article has made me think about those not as lucky as my family – I can’t imagine the extra stresses and strains to a farming life for people who have any kind of mental illness. And you write beautifully – with respect and understanding. The cartoon made me laugh – made me think of my own husband! He’s in computing, but I often worry that he works too hard and too long. He works from home and I have to drag him away from his desk just to grab a quick lunch. If I weren’t here he wouldn’t stop at all. You’re right about it being so important to have another person around to talk to and put things into perspective. So right. I think I’ll make him a coffee and dare to interrupt him for a chat…

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This was a very well written and thought out article. Thank you for writing it and expressing yourself and your concerns. I come from a farming family and still know some farmers. They are always on call. People seem to accept it when a doctor is on call but a farmer has his or her patients and they are the livestock. I welcome blogs like this where people speak out personally about their lives and how they are coping on a daily or months basis. Today I believe people are looking for the real person speaking not a journalist writing 500 words for a deadline. Thank you for opening up.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Your writing really is fantastic. I’m so glad people like yourself are writing about this – so important in farming.

    You might be interested to read my report sometime, which explores some of the points you touch upon in your article: http://www.nuffieldinternational.org/rep_pdf/1476692236Aarun-Naik-report-2015.pdf

    I’m happy to hear you have the support of your wife to talk about your stresses and concerns and that you are making a different choice as to how you deal with your struggles. In doing so you model to others that it is ok to talk about this.

    Thanks and all the best to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Aarun, thank you so much for the kind words. I’m very much a beginner with all this, so it really helps my confidence.
      I can’t open the link from here, but I’d love to read your report. Sounds really interesting. I’ll see if I can find it. Thanks again, Will

      Like

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