The NFU used its summer reception to shine a spotlight on the unique pressures on rural mental health, says county advisor Gemma Harvey
The NFU published the results from its recent survey into farmers’ mental health ahead of its summer reception. Representatives from the UK’s farming charities, alongside almost 100 MPs and peers, attended the reception, which was themed around ‘talking mental health’.
Root causes need addressing
NFU President Minette Batters opened the reception with a speech highlighting the results from the survey, which revealed spiralling input costs, unfairness in the supply chain and the increase in rural crime, are having a significant negative impact on farmers’ mental health.
Minette said the results make for ‘harrowing’ reading and that it was the responsibility of the NFU to ‘encourage members to talk, and to help them find the services provided by the wonderful charities in this room, should they need it.
‘Farmers are keeping the nation fed during tough times. Stress and anxiety take a toll on our members, which is why we’re focusing on rural mental health.’
The results are supported by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee’s report on rural mental health. Published in May, it calls for DEFRA and the DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) to establish a new, joint rural mental health policy and delivery team. The NFU has welcomed the report and agrees with the EFRA select committee’s calls for a review of the current emergency funding mechanisms, echoing the need to establish a dedicated rural mental health funding stream.
Breaking the stigma
Minister for mental health Maria Caulfield reiterated the need to prioritise mental alongside physical health and noted the particular challenges farmers face: ‘I recognise that farmers face rising costs and uncertainty, which is having an impact. Rural communities have pressures that other communities don’t.
‘Early intervention is needed to make a difference and make access to support easier via local community face-to-face help and digital packages.
‘There is still a stigma around loneliness, but it should be no barrier to asking for help.’
NFU student and Young Farmer ambassador Darcy Johnson echoed the need for farmers to reach out: ‘It’s brilliant that so many people are here today, supporting the issue and willing to talk. This will break the stigma of mental health.’
Access to nature vital
‘Britain’s farmers can provide part of the solution to improving everyone’s mental health,’ Minette said, referring to research which shows that regular access to nature can help improve physical and mental wellbeing.
‘Farming can, should and must play a role in the overall health and wellbeing of our nation.’
Don’t struggle in silence
Following the publication of the NFU’s survey results, NFU Vice-President David Exwood called on the government to address the root causes of the issues impacting on farmers’ mental health.
‘While we are starting to see a culture change within our sector, where talking about mental health is becoming more and more accepted, there are still too many farmers and growers simply ignoring the signs and struggling on in silence.
‘I hope today’s event shows there is support out there, as we mark the start of an important conversation. If you or your family are feeling under stress or overwhelmed, start that conversation today.’
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