‘We can all do more’ to reduce worrying agriculture-related suicide statistics
PUBLISHED: 09:30 17 June 2020 | UPDATED: 10:29 09 September 2020
One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. As part of our Exploring Mental Health in Agriculture series, supported by Lloyds Banking Group, Melinda Raker from YANA explains why it is so important to know that you are not alone.
It is easy to romanticise the farmer’s way of life: spending time in the Great British outdoors, reaping the rewards of good, honest labour. While there might be elements of truth to this, the reality is farming is an incredibly demanding, stressful and often isolating occupation. Those engaged in the agricultural sector report increased feelings of depression and anxiety yet are often reluctant to seek support.
Melinda Raker is a patron of YANA – You Are Not Alone – which provides confidential farming community support, mental health awareness and funding for counselling in rural industries across Norfolk, Suffolk and Worcestershire.
Melinda’s husband, John, was a trustee of a Norfolk Farming Charity, The Clan Trust. Following a tragic death in the farming community, the trust decided to do something to positively influence the deepening issue of mental health in agriculture. With a background in hospital administration and charity involvement, Melinda was approached to research what steps could be taken and the project launched in November 2008.
“Our mission is to build a better understanding of mental health throughout the rural sector,” Melinda explains. “YANA has always been ahead of its time and its simple template has done much to raise awareness of mental health in the farming and rural communities in the past 12 years.”
YANA provides fully funded counselling via a confidential helpline that ensures callers can speak to a counsellor or doctor within 48 hours. The helpline is manned by Samaritans-trained volunteers.
“We have 17 counsellors providing support in Norfolk, Suffolk and Worcestershire, who would normally see clients face to face but have continued their work via phone and video during the last few months.”
The project also provides Mental Health First Aid courses for those in farming and rural life. The two-day training courses takes place three times a year and are supported by the Prince’s Countryside Fund.
“To date we have trained nearly 100 people in the right skills to help support friends, family or colleagues who show signs of poor mental health,” Melinda says.
While YANA originally started as a project of the Clan Trust, in the next few months YANA will become a standalone charity.
“We have used the lockdown as an opportunity to work with the trustees to review protocols and systems while preparing for the next phase.”
However, Melinda predicts that the long-term consequences of coronavirus lockdown for mental health charities and those who rely on their services will be severe.
“There is a real possibility that we will see a great increase in the demand for counselling,” Melinda warns. “Once lockdown is over, the backlash will be colossal.
“The agricultural industry is waiting for critical decisions from parliament on staffing, Brexit, import standards and Basic Payment Schemes, as well as Covid-19. Waiting for these decisions inflicts worry on every farming business.
“A vegetable grower in Norfolk told me last week that the current situation has ‘pushed him to the limit’ and he will not be the only one feeling like that.”
YANA is funded entirely by grants and donations with no government support.
“We are so grateful to all those who fundraise for us or send donations so that we can continue this vital work. But organisations like YANA can only do so much. Those who have serious long-term mental health problems need better NHS primary and secondary provision when they are in crisis.”
Last October, YANA launched a suicide prevention campaign with its ‘7 Tractor Facts to Save a Life’ card, designed to encourage people to intervene if they are seriously concerned about a friend or colleague.
“It is not easy to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal,” Melinda says. “But asking the question will not put the thought of suicide into their head, as many might assume. Instead it will make them feel that there is someone who understands how desperate they are feeling at that moment.
“One person in the farming industry takes their life every week in the UK, while Norfolk has the sixth highest rate of suicide in the country,” Melinda says. “We can all do more in an effort to reduce those worrying statistics.”
For more information please visit www.yanahelp.org or call the confidential helpline on 0300 323 0400.
To listen to the ‘Exploring Mental Health in Agriculture’ webinar please click here.
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