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Study finds rural mental health support is patchy

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By Fiona Reid
Farming
Study finds rural mental health support is patchy

MENTAL health support for farmers needs a radical overhaul, say researchers.

Cranfield University research has revealed the multiple drivers of poor farming mental health.

And they say mental health services in rural areas need urgent attention to ensure the needs of farmers are properly me

The study indicates how the Covid-19 pandemic led to increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal feelings among the UK’s farming population. It raises concerns around what the research team calls ‘landscapes of support’, with civil society organisations fighting to support farmers alongside primary mental healthcare services which are sometimes inaccessible and inadequately suited to rural communities.

By interviewing and surveying supporters of farming mental health, including chaplains, charities, auction mart staff and primary healthcare, the research found that mental health services are strained in rural communities and provide uneven coverage across the country. Some healthcare settings can be inaccessible and lack an understanding of farming, whilst informal spaces of social support are being eroded due to the loss of rural community. Mental health charities are struggling with funding and with the trauma of helping farmers through difficult times.

Academics are now calling on policymakers to take urgent action to help rural-proof primary mental healthcare services and better support civil society organisations which widen the safety net for farmers.

The research project was led by David Rose, Professor of Sustainable Agricultural Systems.

He said: “The covid pandemic exacerbated issues with farmers’ mental health that we already knew existed. For example, primary mental healthcare provision in parts of the UK is based on urban delivery models that do not suit rural communities. This leaves civil society organisations fighting to fill the support gap, but these organisations face their own struggles.

“This issue needs urgent attention to ensure farmers get the support they need and help civil society organisations to flourish. We want devolved governments to urgently address this and ensure support is in place for future shocks.”

Stephanie Berkeley, of the Farm Safety Foundation, said: “I welcome the findings of this study and agree that urgent action is needed to support the ongoing mental health of our farmers. They work long hours every day, through global pandemics and uncertain times, to put food on our plates – but this dedication comes at a price.

“We need immediate action at government level to improve the primary mental healthcare provision for those living and working in rural communities.”

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