We must ‘keep conversation going’ around mental health in agriculture
PUBLISHED: 15:59 17 July 2020 | UPDATED: 13:53 28 August 2020
Archant’s Exploring Mental Health in Agriculture series, supported by Lloyds Banking Group, seeks to raise awareness of the deepening issue of mental health among East Anglia’s farmers and establish ways of keeping the conversation alive. Here, key figures driving the campaign discuss the successes and solutions presented by the series, and what we can do to keep the discourse moving.
Mental health in agriculture has become a national emergency – it is estimated that one person each week takes their own life in the farming industry, while the Farm Safety Foundation found that 84pc of farmers under 40 believe poor mental health was the biggest danger facing the sector in a 2019 survey.
In an effort to discuss ways of raising awareness around these shocking statistics and the issue at large, Lloyds Banking Group – a major backer of mental health through their partnership with Mental Health UK – and Archant launched the Exploring Mental Health in Agriculture campaign with a webinar on May 29. The conversation brought together those living and working in the world of farming with Lloyds Banking Group, employers’ organisations, politicians, therapists and the media to open an honest discourse and raise awareness about this pressing issue.
Panellists included Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) minister Victoria Prentis, and Stuart Roberts, deputy president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), among other industry leaders.
Melinda Raker of YANA – You Are Not Alone, an organisation which provides confidential farming community support and funding for counselling in rural industries – also participated in the webinar in May.
“The outcomes of the Exploring Mental Health in Agriculture project have far exceeded expectations,” Melinda says. “I am extremely proud of the fact that YANA was able to play a part in this ongoing campaign, which has been highly successful in exploring a variety of issues in the sector.”
Following the webinar, a series of articles with accompanying videos explored the people directly affected by these issues, as well as the organisations offering support.
“I am so grateful to the participants and supporters of YANA for sharing their stories in the case study videos, which were beautifully crafted and each with a different but poignant message: Claire Wright from the Country, Land and Business Assocation (CLA) on seeking help; Emma Watkin on the difficulties of farming; psychotherapist Sally Storr on how to communicate effectively; and Anthony Hagen from British Sugar on hope after the darkest days.”
As a result of the issues raised by the series, MP for Mid Norfolk George Freeman will be writing to all rural MPs and sending copies of the YANA National Directory of Rural Support Groups and the YANA Suicide Prevention Campaign card, ‘7 Tractor Facts to Save a Life’.
“We hope the rural MPs will then get in touch with their local support groups to find out the specific problems in farming and rural businesses in their area and offer their support,” Melinda says.
Matt Hubbard, Lloyds Banking Group’s ambassador for the East of England, took a leading role in the series and has since been invited to host a session with DEFRA and other agriculture teams at top UK banks, along with department ministers and MPs, on the topic of financial resilience – an issue which is closely linked to mental health.
“We knew from the outset that the campaign was likely to spark insightful discussions, but it’s been hugely encouraging to see the extent to which the conversation has developed since the initial launch,” Matt says. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the strong levels of engagement from members of the farming community here in the East of England, and from interest we’ve received from politicians in other rural regions in the UK.
“We’ve not only explored how to tackle the issue from a political perspective, but also collaboratively as a farming community, as businesses and as individuals. It’s important that this remains a cross-industry discussion so that it is front of mind among MPs, banks and industry bodies.”
Matt emphasises that while the campaign is drawing to a close, the conversation is only just getting started.
“It’s clear there are large patches within communities where the stigma around mental health is still very real,” Matt explains. “But the process has shown us that there are groups out there who are fiercely committed to tackling the issue and spreading awareness and support.
“I want to reiterate the importance of the issue – it’s something that impacts so many people across the sector yet the stigma remains. We need to continue to talk about mental health, working collaboratively in order to tackle it.
“We’ve still got a long way to go. Now we must focus on keeping the conversation going.”
To listen to the ‘Exploring Mental Health in Agriculture’ webinar please click here.
To explore more articles in the Exploring Mental Health in Agriculture series, please click here.
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