Mental health takeover: Risk of depression and suicide high for those in farming

A farmer ploughing his field near Aylsham. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

A farmer ploughing his field near Aylsham. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A life on the land brings particular pressures for those working in isolated rural surroundings, says JO HOEY of farming's mental health charity YANA (You Are Not Alone).

A farmer ploughing his field at Bayfield.

A farmer ploughing his field at Bayfield. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

For those not involved with agriculture there is probably an idyllic idea of farming life – four-wheel drive vehicles, good income, rolling acres, charming farmhouses and maybe the view of attractive livestock from the window. The reality is very different.

One of the harsh facts of farming, horticulture and rural trades is that the group is high risk of depression and suicide.

Between 2006 and 2015 Public Health Norfolk recorded 35 deaths by suicide from this cohort – nearly twice the rate for the general population.

For those in farming this is easily understood, with some of the main issues being increasingly erratic weather patterns, animal diseases such as the recent bird flu, stresses with marketing produce, workplace isolation, lack of respite, increasing regulation, poor financial returns (a recent study shows the farmers' average income is under £20,000) and, no doubt, uncertainty with Brexit is yet another factor, as well as an historical reluctance to discuss mental health.

It was one such farming tragedy that prompted a Norfolk charity to launch the YANA (You Are Not Alone) project in 2008.

The website and informative leaflets describe the symptoms of depression and action to take, while YANA's presence at every agricultural event in Norfolk and Suffolk throughout the year has successfully raised the profile of mental health, highlighting that it is 'OK not to feel OK', and encouraging those who are suffering from depression, stress or anxiety to visit their GP promptly or contact the YANA confidential helpline.

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The project can fund up to six sessions of counselling, either via its helpline or a patient's GP, and can put that in place within days – a real lifeline when waiting lists for counselling with the NHS can be months.

At a time when the NHS is experiencing enormous pressures it is good to know that the farming and rural communities in our areas are reaching out and supporting their own.

For confidential advice and support see, email or call the helpline on 0300 323 0400.

• For more from the EDP's special mental health takeover edition, click here.