It has been said that the psychological and social impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic are likely to outlast the physical symptoms of the virus. This is a particular issue within the agricultural and veterinary industries, due to the fact that although UK farmers are renowned for the high quality care and attention they bestow on their livestock, crops and machinery, it is apparent their own wellbeing tends to take a back seat.
To help tackle this issue, farmer support groups have teamed up with mental health professional, Becky Wright (founder of New Leaf) to create The Somerset Mental Health in Agriculture Group and to provide resources for those visiting farms to help support with mental health issues. Group founder, Becky says: “Farming is one of the loneliest industries in which to work. With the added financial and political challenges, most of which cannot be influenced by the farmer, it is no wonder that the industry experiences one of the highest levels of poor mental health. We hope that this group, our first project, and others that will follow, will provide some tools to support those closest to the farmers to seek the right help and guidance.”
Becky initiated The Somerset Mental Health Group in Agriculture following a similar project that she had developed specifically for the construction industry. The idea is that those visiting farms will have resources available to them to be able to communicate with farmers about mental health, or to be able to signpost them to places of support.
One of the group’s members, NFU’s Somerset County Advisor, Lydia Cox commented: “We need to get the messages out as far and as wide as we can, so while I can get the information out to our NFU members, we are looking for anyone or any other organisation who has access to the farming community to get in touch with us, to help us to help them.”
The agriculture group includes representatives from a range of support organisations who have come together with the sole aim of supporting the farming community through their challenges, and are developing a range of tools to support those within the farming community to identify and support farmers who may be struggling to cope with the vagaries of farming life and whose mental health is deteriorating.
“We all need to take a moment to consider our health and wellbeing,” says Lorna Filby, Head of Organisational Safety and Wellbeing at Mole Valley Farmers. “Mole Valley Farmers are pleased to be working with The Somerset Mental Health in Agriculture Group as they launch their Mental Health in Farming guidance. Local initiatives such as this are so vital; they provide help and support to farmers or agricultural workers who may be struggling and not know where to turn.”
The first project developed by the group is an easy-to-read pocket-sized Z-card information flyer that sets out some of the symptoms of mental health and what to look out for in a family member, colleague or friend. It also contains information of who can help – the Farming Community Network (FCN), the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) and the Samaritans.
The Z-cards will be distributed by the group’s stakeholders as well as through the farming intermediaries such as accountants, livestock auctioneers and agriculture merchants, and through memberships of the NFU, the Royal Bath & West Society and the Bristol Corn & Feed Trade Association, each of which has made a financial contribution to the project. An online version of the flyer has also been developed that will be sent out through a range of social media outlets and e-newsletters.
Distribution of the Z-cards coincides with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which is taking place 18th – 24th May, and which focuses on the Power and Potential of Kindness – kindness unlocks our shared humanity – and so the group are hoping many people and organisations will help to distribute the group’s messages, to reach as many people as possible to support the farming community and possibly help to save lives. Hashtags to help spread the word include, #MentalHealthSomerset #MHSomerset #KindnessMatters #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. #Mentalhealthfarmingsomerset
The next project to be launched by the group later in the year – funded by the Bridgwater Agricultural Society – is a collection of short film clips which highlight the issue of mental health in agriculture, and which will be shown at events and distributed via social media.