The recent focus on Blue Monday was a timely opportunity to look at the progress made by the farming industry in dealing with mental health – and also how much support is needed.
With the first months of the year sometimes a time for personal issues to come to the fore for those battling with mental health, it is a reminder that we are part of a sector reliant on people.
Technology is playing a growing role but we need human beings to be involved at every stage of farming. Our line of work is competitive and many people like to take on as much as possible to get through difficult times like the current era.
We recognise there are factors like the weather, the price of crops and the economy as a whole are outside our control.
The lifestyle of people in farming with periods of isolation and many shouldering challenges which compete for their focus, which was only exacerbated during Covid and now the cost of living crisis, has an impact on mental wellbeing.
Working in agriculture can be a lonely place so we need as many farmers as possible to appreciate that help is out there.
I have managed people in previous roles who have been going through issues, which offered a fast education. The challenges faced by one colleague, who I managed while working in a different part of the UK, came to light when he lost his driving licence for drink driving, which came after occasional bouts of absenteeism.
We valued his work and accommodated him during his ban, supporting him in securing counselling for his issues including driving him to regular appointments.
I am pleased to say we helped him turn things around over a year, from having suicidal thoughts to being able to play a full role in our business and to enjoy a more settled life away from work.
We are getting better with dealing such situations but farmers are very proud people, many of whom do not feel able to turn to people for help.
Sadly, we lose too many farmers and colleagues each year when their situations end in the worst possible way. There are dedicated support services available such as You Are Not Alone (www.yanahelp.org) which offers help for those involved in farming and other rural businesses affected by stress and depression. Mind UK and the Samaritans also provide valuable services.
After my previous experience, I would like to think I can see the issues earlier next time, but everyone is different and not every situation is visible until sadly it is too late.
Farm and estates teams like to act as families so it makes sense that we look out for each other in difficult times.
If you have been affected by this article, you can call the Samaritans on 116123.
For more details on the work of Samaritans and how to contact them visit samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/