World Mental Health Day took place on Thursday 10th October and in response to this I saw a poignant picture on social media of 52 pairs of wellies lined up in a farmyard representing the number of farmers who committed suicide last year.
Princes William and Harry have certainly raised the profile of mental health having had their own personal experiences following the death of their mother but the anguish being felt by many farmers across the country is evidenced by the statistics that show around one farmer per week took his or her own life last year.
Farming is a lonely life, with many solitary hours spent driving machinery or feeding and tending to livestock and this gives those people a lot of time to dwell on all the problems that they may be facing in their business or personal life without anyone to provide a different perspective or wider support.
Levels of depression in the industry are thought to be increasing and suicide rates in farmers are among the highest in any occupational group according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Risk of suicide is also higher amongst those working in specific agricultural roles such as harvesting crops and rearing animals where the rates are almost twice the national average according to the ONS.
The Agricultural industry also has one of the poorest safety records of any occupation in the UK and stress is often a key factor in many of the accidents, injuries and illnesses taking place on farms. Stress is something that many farmers face at some point and is an important contributor to mental health problems. It can come from many sources such as financial pressures resulting from market fluctuations, livestock disease, poor harvests, uncertainty created by policy issues such as those we may face following Brexit and the increasing administrative burden complying with new and changing legislation which at times can become overwhelming.
The situation is compounded by the fact that farming tends to be an innately conservative culture and some still perceive a stigma attached to mental health. This can hinder people’s willingness to speak about the issue and to seek help for themselves.
Therefore, the message must be to those who are suffering that they should take that first and very important step to speak to someone about how they are feeling and then seek professional support. If Princes William and Harry have had the courage to speak out publically then farmers or farm workers who are experiencing similar difficulties should feel no shame or stigma seeking help – one would not struggle on with a broken arm without seeking treatment and mental health issues need to be treated in the same way.
For further information, contact James Stephen, Partner (firstname.lastname@example.org / 01865 404406), or your local Carter Jonas office.