Ensuring good mental health
Mental health is rarely an easy or comfortable conversation topic, but it is important to acknowledge that periods of uncertainty and/or change, particularly when they have a financial impact, can trigger huge levels of anxiety. Ensuring good mental health needs to be a focus for everyone. If you are struggling, speak to someone and share the burden; it can be a friend, family member or one of the many readily and freely available health professionals. Look out for others too. The offer of a cuppa and a friendly ear can go a long way.
Fran Rice, Worcestershire, England
I farm in Worcestershire with my husband. We started our farming enterprise about 10 years ago from a small vegetable patch, a few chickens and three sheep, but we have now built up to 300 ewes. We bought in a patch of arable land and have been converting this to pasture over the last few years, with plans to start a Hereford suckler herd in the next 18 months.
It’s been a long process and was slower than we wanted because over this period I’ve had to spend some time in hospital with mental health problems, but we’re beginning to get to where we want to be.
Despite the fact I initially trained as a GP, I did not recognise at the time that I was developing increasingly severe depression. Friends noticed I was losing weight but I passed this off as getting fit for a half marathon I was running. It wasn’t until I was beginning to have some suicidal thoughts that I realised I needed help.
My friend took me to the doctor and I had my first consultation in October 2011. I was quickly diagnosed with depression and anorexia. Since then it’s been an uphill struggle but getting support was necessary and, without that support from my GP and other services, I wouldn’t be alive today.
Everyone experiences mental health illnesses differently, and for me there were times when the only option was to be admitted into hospital for long periods of time. This isn’t the case for everyone, but it was what I needed.
I now spend most of my time farming and, while this can be therapeutic, any farmer will know it can also be very stressful. It can be great to be your own boss, setting your own timings and prioritising what you want, but this comes with difficulties with the more unpredictable things like weather, or sheep getting out or flock health problems. It is also hard not having a lot of time for holidays or general time off.
It’s also the issue that I spend my day outside doing the work only to come home and watch farming programmes and read articles and things about sheep health and more. It’s a good lifestyle but it does have its cons and I would say it’s very important to maintain something you enjoy that isn’t related to work on a regular basis.
It can be really hard when you’re experiencing depression and other conditions to talk to people and be honest about how you’re feeling. But from my experience, it doesn’t matter who you talk to as long as you talk to someone. If you need to talk to a stranger there are telephone, email or event text helplines. Just don’t keep everything bottled up, it won’t help, and it won’t go away.
It can be tempting to ignore symptoms or think you don’t deserve the help. That isn’t true and, as certainly as you should see a doctor for a physical symptom like chest pains, you should see a doctor for depressive thoughts. Hoping it will go away could make it worse and, for me, led to prolonged and enforced hospital admissions. Mental health problems are all treatable and there are lots of ways that can happen – but get yourself the help you need, and make sure you look after your physical health too as this can help.
Ideally, people should talk about this as openly as they would about having a cold. Nobody should be alone with mental illness regardless of how isolating it can feel and, for me, my husband and friends have been an amazing support.
You should seek help as readily as you would for a physical problem. Mental health problems have always existed, but people are becoming increasingly aware of the support that exists and I hope will lead to more people getting the help they need.
More information: Call the Farming Helpline on 03000 111999 (or 08001 381678 in Northern Ireland). Someone will receive your call 7am-11pm, 365 days a year and direct you to the most suitable farming charity for personal or financial support or issues with accommodation. Alternatively, help is available online. Services are UK-wide unless stated.
- Farming Help signposts users to the most appropriate farming charity. The specific farming charities are (for England and Wales) the Farming Community Network, Addington Fund and Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, (for Scotland) the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution and (for Northern Ireland) Rural Support. Additional regional services also exist and the ‘You Are Not Alone’ farming project has a useful rural directory listing them all. The Yellow Wellies (Farm Safety Foundation) initiative also had a Little Book of Minding Your Head pocket guide to understanding mental health and stress management in agriculture. There is also a useful NSA Sheep Farmer article explaining the role of the various farming charities. Find it on page 20-21 of the October/November 2019 editions of Sheep Farmer.
- NHS Mood Zone
- Specifically for the devolved nations: NHS Scotland, Public Health Wales, Mental Health For Wales and Lifeline (Northern Ireland).
- Specifically for young people: Papyrus and Young Minds.
- For farm businesses involving large numbers of family members or staff, you can access Red Cross Mental health and well-being courses.
- Mental Health First Aid training is available in Northern Ireland, if you want to learn how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or is in a crisis.
Listen in the comfort of your own home or on-the-go as Charles Smith, Farming Community Network Chief Executive, describes his involvement in supporting good mental health for farmers. Charles has led FCN for eight years, raising recognition of the work being done and growing expertise within the network.