Young farmers urged to open up to break mental health stigma

Norfolk's Young Farmers' Clubs have seen membership drop by a half during the coronavirus crisis, sa

Will de Feyter, 29, farms at East Ruston and is a member of North Walsham Young Farmers' Club (YFC) - Credit: Jane de Feyter

Young farmers have been urged to open up about their mental health worries and check up on their friends amid mounting social and business pressures.

According to a survey by the Farm Safety Foundation, 92pc of farmers under the age of 40 rank poor mental health as the "biggest hidden problem" facing them today - up from 82pc in 2018.

The last two years have heaped added pressure onto farmers, with poor harvests, supply chain shortages, subsidy withdrawals and the Covid pandemic adding to the existing challenges of working long hours in an isolated environment.

But Tom Collison, 26, a logistics manager for Shipdham-based land drainage specialists William Morfoot and a former chairman of Terrington Young Farmers’ Club (YFC), said there was still a "massive stigma" around mental health.

Tom Collison, chairman of Terrington Young Farmers Club (YFC). Picture: Tom Collison

Tom Collison, 26, is a logistics manager for land drainage firm William Morfoot - Credit: Tom Collison

He said the pandemic removed valuable social outlets, making people turn to social media, where unrealistic portrayals of success or happiness could compound feelings of isolation.

And while industry shows and events are finally returning, he said the cost of living crisis meant some young people had to cut back on socialising - making it all the more important for friends and colleagues to look for signs of depression.

"People working in farming industries can become horrendously isolated," he said. "But farmers are notoriously tough people so getting them to talk about mental health can be very difficult.  

"Social media is a double-edged sword. There is a really good community of farmers on there and you get the benefit of people speaking out and people offering support, but you also get a lot of people saying they are feeling isolated. It is a cry for help at that point.

"You also see an awful lot of stuff where farmers are portraying how wonderful their life is, when they have been given products by certain brands to mention it to their following.

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"Some videos are getting 500,000 views and, from a young person's mindset, they are asking: 'Why is my stuff not reaching that audience, what am I doing wrong?' It knocks you down and gives you unrealistic expectations which can negatively impact your mental health."

Mr Collison has just completed a risk assessment on stress and fatigue for his company, and has signed up for a mental health first aid course in March.

"From a management point of view it is fairly easy to see when someone's productivity has gone down, or if they are looking like they are suffering from stress and fatigue," he said.

"One of the things that has been troubling me recently is: Am I the one who is approachable? If I get that training, am I the person they are going to confide in?"

Will de Feyter, 29, who farms at East Ruston and is a club leader for North Walsham YFC, agreed that starting conversations was the best way to break the stigma around mental health.

"There are more people than you might think who will say: 'I am really struggling here'," he said.

"But it is really importantly that people find the courage to talk about it with their friends or their GP. That is the hardest part.

"Friendship groups could be the way to open up. It might not happen at a meeting or at the pub on a Friday night. If you are worried or you realise you haven't spoken to someone for a while, just pick the phone up or go and knock on their door.

"They may not be receptive at first and they might not want to talk now, but they could talk about it later."

  • For more information on the Farm Safety Foundation's Mind Your Head campaign, see www.yellowwellies.org.
  • If you or someone you know needs help, visit www.yanahelp.org, or contact the confidential YANA helpline on 0300 323 0400 or helpline@yanahelp.org.