Mental health in the agricultural sector

Energy Psychotherapy is based in Derbyshire, a country shaped by many types of agriculture from moorlands, horticultural holdings, and livestock production. Derbyshire farms supply the area with fresh milk, quality meats, vegetables, and ornamentals. Derbyshire has such a rural feel to it, however, being near larger towns and cities, farmland also performs as a place to escape for the millions of visitors who come and explore the county each year. For example, Matlock Farm Park, Tagg Lane Dairy, Matlock Meadows, and Chatsworth Farm Park. Others provide campsites and caravan parks to provide accommodation for these visitors too. Being around agriculture, whether that be walking through a farmer’s field, buying their produce, or following a tractor along the road, makes it impossible to ignore the state of the mental health of those working in the sector.

Levels of depression are increasing and the suicide rates in farmers are the highest in any occupational group. There are many risk factors for mental health associated with the agricultural sector. The hours are long, a lot of the work is done alone, there are financial pressures and many of the factors they must consider for their work are out of their control such as the weather, trade disputes and the price of livestock.

In 2019 there were 102 suicides in those working in farming and agriculture.

Risk factors in more detail:

Living at work: most farmers live on the farm where they work which mean it can be very difficult for them to switch off from work and have boundaries between their work life and their home life which can lead to them burning out.

Working alone: Farming can be a very lonely industry to work in, there may be a few people working on the farm, but it is likely that there are several different jobs that need doing so everyone will be taking on their jobs alone. This can lead to feeling lonely, it doesn’t provide opportunities to talk about something that might be bothering you and it can make thoughts feel very loud and powerful, particularly if they are negative.

Long hours: Unlike most jobs, you can set your hours per day or week and be confident that you will be able to stick to them. Farming doesn’t fit that criteria and can include early starts, late finishes and very few breaks. This means there is very little time to switch off from work, it can lead to limited amounts of sleep and inevitably becoming exhausted.

Weather: The weather has a huge impact on agriculture, dryer conditions needed for harvest, rain to help the grass grow for it to be harvested and it can also bring things to halt too, for example, rain at the time when you don’t need it and it wasn’t forecast. These all affect things such as money, feed for their livestock and in extreme cases their livestock. Flooding has seen livestock drown and where there has been very little rain there is no grass in the fields left for them to eat.

External factors including climate change and veganism: this also links into the media as the media are responsible for sharing it far and wide. There is a lot of emphasis placed on farming when it comes to the negative changes to the climate and the focus placed on eating a plant-based diet is creating a sense of uncertainty around all the methods a farm raises an income. Uncertainty understandably can lead to anxiety; it can bring pressure to diversify which can mean large expenses and deter next generation farmers from pursuing a career in agriculture.

Don’t suffer in silence, as a farmer you are part of a community of like minded people – use this to your advantage. Share your worries, connect with them and look out for others. You may find that talking to someone might help you and there are organisations such as the Farming Community Network and RABI which have services and helplines available.

Billie Pursglove

Billie Pursglove

Owner of Energy Psychotherapy and BACP Registered Member.