In July 2019 a group was formed of people across Somerset it is an open forum currently of 18 people but this changes at each meeting, we have been meeting since July 2019.
Poor mental health is the biggest health topic within the UK and is a particular issue within the agricultural and veterinary industry. Whilst UK farmers are renowned for the attention they give to their livestock, crops and machinery, it appears they do not have such a good track record when it comes to taking care of themselves and their own wellbeing.
Mental health and suicide are clearly serious issues that the farming community, as well as wider society, needs to address.
However, the picture of suicide among agricultural workers is a complex one and we have been advised must be painted with care. The latest ONS data indicates that the risk of suicide in farming varies significantly according to the type of agricultural work being done. Those in agricultural and fishing trades, for example, carry the highest risk of suicide in the industry, which is several times that of the broader population. Farm workers also carry a significantly elevated risk of suicide compared to wider society. Crucially, farmers (including agricultural contractors, agricultural technicians, crofters (farming), farmers and herd managers) are not any more or less likely to commit suicide than the broader population. We have taken this into context when developing our resources.
The group decided to look at where the gaps were in current resource provision. Somerset is one of the most rural counties in England we need to make our rural areas mentally safe for people to live and work.
Our first task which is nearly complete is to create a pocket size Z Card which gives those visiting farms information about what to do if they spot signs and symptoms of mental ill-health. Our second project is to create a short 3 min film and training package to work alongside the Zcard.
The main messages on the Z card are:
- Life can be hard sometimes and we need to look out for each other.
- Do you have concerns about someone’s mental wellbeing?
- Have you seen any changes in their behaviour?
We invite the reader to consider the following in terms of have they noticed:
- Declining interest in the farm
- Change in personal appearance
- Catastrophic and negative thinking
- Withdrawing from social events, family and friends
- Stress in the family – for example financial or emotional stress
- Difficulty sleeping
- Reliance on medication, alcohol or drugs
- Irrational thinking, such as focusing on worst-case outcomes
- An increasingly negative attitude towards their life
- Difficulty in taking decisions – both big and small
We encourage the person to ask the question twice, ” Sometimes we say we are fine when we are not.” and trust their gut feeling.
We then signpost to the Community Farming Network Rabbi, The Samaritans or dial 999.
The Z card at the time of writing is not yet launched whilst we finalise the graphics and online version. The card will be initially printed with the kind donation of funding from The Royal Bath and West Show, BCFTA and NFU. We are hoping that the training will be distributed to all those who visit farms.
The group who give their time for free as volunteers are:
- Becky Wright Chair – New Leaf Mental Health Trainer
- Mandy Trunks Administrator New Leaf
- Tod Merson Retired family farmer volunteer with Farming Community Network
- Dave White, Family Farmer, working with the LEP looking at the potential of Tech in the rural communities
- Alan Tate-Smith BKG Insurance providing insurance to farmers
- Suzie Wilkinson Farming Community Network
- Martin Hill Film maker
- Lydia Cox NFU County Advisor
- Rupert Cox, Royal Bath and West Show Chief Executive
- Alan Lyons – Head of Shows Bath and West Shows
- Simon James Open Vision working in the insurance market digital mental health solutions
- Mike Rowe, Volunteer for Farming Community Network
- Pam Wills RABI Welfare charity coordinator
- Rob White Evans and Pearce Contractors to Farmers
- Mark Cox and Laura Filby – Mole Valley Farmers
- Richard Cooksley – BCFTA – Training Events for Grain and Feed Trade
- Nick Smith – Retired lawyer volunteer with FCN