How farming’s mental health charity YANA helped Norfolk family through tough times

Former dairy farmers Ava Barrell and her son Tim. Picture: Ian Burt

Former dairy farmers Ava Barrell and her son Tim. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

A Norfolk farming family have told how rural mental health charity YANA helped see them through difficult times, and pave the way towards a brighter future.

Former dairy farmers Ava Barrell and her son Tim. Picture: Ian Burt

Former dairy farmers Ava Barrell and her son Tim. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

It is often said that farming can be a lonely profession, with endless hours worked in distant fields.

And it was the particular pressures of this demanding job which led to the creation of East Anglian mental health charity YANA (You Are Not Alone).

But that helpless sense of isolation is not just caused by being alone – according to one Norfolk family, those feelings can actually be deepened when surrounded by others who are struggling to cope with the same stresses.

Ava Barrell and her son Tim spoke about their experiences to alert others to the value of the counselling services offered by YANA, which helped them both through recent difficulties.

Mrs Barrell said the family was already dealing with the break-up of her marriage when, after investing heavily in a new dairy, the milk price crash meant the business in Shipdham, near Dereham, was suddenly losing £160,000 a year.

It prompted the heart-wrenching decision to sell their 400-strong Gemini herd, ending four generations of dairy farming and marking a low point of financial worries and depression.

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But now, with the empty cow sheds filled with almost 2,000 finishing pigs, they have set the family business on the road to a brighter future – which they credit to the help from the expert counsellor working with YANA, who gave them the confidence to find their new direction.

'She got me to take a deep breath,' said Mrs Barrell. 'She helped us recognise the signs of where to go, and what you can and cannot achieve.

'Having someone there who is totally independent and finding you could talk to them about your issues is very important – you have to learn how to open yourself up and survey yourself like you are looking down on yourself.

'You feel isolated, which seems a silly thing to say when you are part of a family unit. You get this feeling you have no-one to talk to, as you don't want to burden your problems on your family, because they are in the same situation.

'You get so weighed down by the pressure of your problems and you cannot see that anyone else would lend a hand to help.

'I don't know how many other people are out there in the same situation, thinking there is nothing they can do – but there is. You don't have to be stuck going down the same road that is never going to change and never going to get better.'

Mrs Barrell's son Tim said he, too, was grateful for the help of the YANA counsellor, but also to his wife Sam, who recognised the problems and put him in touch with the charity.

'We were under pressure from work as well as family, and you didn't have a lot of time to relieve the stress,' he said. 'There was no outlet. You sit there in the field and it just goes round and round in your mind and you feel so alone and you cannot see a way out.

'I couldn't sleep, I didn't eat a lot and I felt angry all the time. I had a split personality. I tried to be jokey with the work lads but deep down I was screaming out, and you couldn't talk to your friends because you felt ashamed.

'It was when I really hit rock bottom that Sam pushed me to go and see someone, and she came along which made things easier.

'She (the counsellor) made me realise that I was not trapped and I could do what I want with my life, and I could always explore other avenues. You can take a fork in the road and go a different way.

'It has been a really positive help. Fair enough, we all go through hard times, but I saw hope that we could move forward and it gave me the drive to push this farm forward into a new chapter to make it successful.'


YANA was founded in Norfolk in 2008 to help those in farming who may be affected by stress and depression.

It has since expanded into Suffolk, and is seeing an increasing demand for its service, said trustee Michael Pollitt, the EDP's former agricultural editor. 'We are receiving more calls from family and friends who are concerned about partners or other members of the family,' he said. 'They want to know what help might be available, and how can they access it.

'The demand is certainly increasing, and the best we can tell is it is not directly because of the economic circumstances, although that is a concern for many, but more the whole overwhelming feeling of isolation. Many people are working longer hours and lacking opportunities for social interaction.

'What we are able to do is suggest where they can seek help. We can find and connect them with professional counsellors within 24 hours of receiving a call. We can make that available through GPs, and we tell GPs that we have that potential funding.'

For completely confidential help and advice, contact the YANA Helpline on 0300 323 0400 or click here to visit the website.

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