Probing conversations could help prevent 'devastating' farming suicides

Kit Papworth, director of farm contractors LF Papworth, will speak at an online suicide prevention event on October 12

North Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth spoke at an online mental health webinar aiming to prevent suicides in the farming industry - Credit: Chris Hill

Better communication and more direct questions from friends and family could help reduce the tragic toll of suicides in the farming industry.

That was a key message from an online discussion hosted by the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

Mental health professionals said the webinar aimed to address the reasons behind statistics showing that 133 people in the farming community lost their lives to suicide in 2019.

The speakers included north Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth, who lost his father David in August 2018 at the age of 73.

He said his father - a respected and hard-working farmer - suffered with chronic back pain which had affected his mental health.

But he said there are many factors to consider in an industry characterised by isolated working and concerns over the financial impact of uncontrollable variables ranging from subsidy withdrawals to the weather.

He said communication was the key to identifying and helping people who may need it.

"I think farming is a unique business," he said.

Most Read

"Working alone, often not leaving the farm and not having people to talk to can lead to these thoughts in your mind, and when you are alone all day those thoughts can really build in your head. That is why organisations like YANA (the farming mental health charity) and others like them are so important.

"But sometimes it means just talking to friends and family, or someone anonymous, or your GP.

"Conversation is probably the best thing we've got to help each other. But because we work in an isolated industry, we work on our own a lot, we sit in a machine alone a lot, it is also about trying to spot the people who are not having a conversation.

"That is the hardest thing, trying to see the people who are not communicating as often as they could, or perhaps should. 

"That is what I would like people to take away from this. It isn't always just the tractor driver, maybe it's his wife, or his children - those are the people we need to make sure they are OK.

"And it is not just: 'Are you OK?' 'Yeah I'm fine'... it is a bigger conversation than that."

David Papworth, who died in August 2018 at the age of 73

David Papworth, who died in August 2018 at the age of 73 - Credit: Archant

Mr Papworth said his father suffered with permanent back pain as a result of previous surgery.

"But we didn't really realise to what extent it was getting him down and he was getting depressed that he was unable to do his normal, active day-to-day life," he said.

"One morning in August he decided to take his own life. There was, for us, no prior warning, he left no note, and some of us had seen him the day before. 

"The impact on us as a family was devastating. We have chosen to be open about this to help others - and if we help one other family or one other person, that is a huge achievement for us."

Another speaker was Emma Haley, charity manager for YANA, which funds confidential counselling and support for people in farming and rural communities.

Emma Haley, charity manager for farming mental health charity YANA

Emma Haley, charity manager for farming mental health charity YANA - Credit: YANA

She said people should not be afraid of asking direct questions about suicide.

"An important thing is the need to ask the direct question around 'have you thought about self-harming or suicide?'," she said.

"Often people are scared to be direct about it, but actually there is power in being direct.

"It creates an opportunity to make a connection with that person, it can bring them a sense of relief because suddenly it is out there rather than internally carrying it around with them.

"So I think that is really important for us all to know it is OK to just ask that question.

"We are not going to put that seed in their head. If it is there it is already there, but if not it is not suddenly going to make them start thinking along those lines."

  • YANA offers confidential mental health support and counselling for those in farming and rural industries in Norfolk and Suffolk. Contact the helpline on 0300 323 0400 or visit the YANA website.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter