Northern Ireland

Mental ill health affecting 'hundreds of NI farmers'

Image caption Research suggests 81% of young farmers believe mental ill health is "biggest hidden problem" facing the industry

Hundreds of farmers in Northern Ireland are dealing with mental health problems, according to a charity.

Rural Support's chief executive Jude McCann said it helps hundreds of farmers with the issue every year.

But despite this, people find it hard to talk about, he said.

"Farmers are very proud, very independent, and to admit to mental health issues is something that not many people do freely," he said.

Image copyright Rural Support
Image caption Jude McCann is a farmer as well as a chief executive of the charity

"But the reality is that one in four of us, at some stage in our lives, will experience a mental health issue.

"We need more people talking about it. We need farmers to talk about how they have dealt with their own depression, anxiety, mental health issues, so that other people feel comfortable coming out and talking about it."

Depression and stress

Mr McCann explained that Rural Support is often contacted by farmers experiencing financial problems or other issues, and part of their service involves visiting people in their own homes, speaking "face-to-face around the kitchen table".

"After one or two visits people start to open up around issues like depression, stress, anxiety, and at Rural Support we are dealing with hundreds of farmers in that situation," he said.

Image copyright Rural Support
Image caption Rural Support has its own helpline

Farming - while incredibly rewarding in some ways - can also be a stressful and lonely job.

Research carried out by the Farm Safety Foundation suggests that 81% of young farmers believe mental health issues are the "biggest hidden problem" facing farmers today.

The foundation's research also shows that a farmer takes his or her life every week across the UK.

This week is 'Mind Your Head' week - an annual campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues for farmers.

Image caption Rural Support is raising awareness of mental health on 'Mind Your Head' week

Mr McCann said that the first step to getting help is talking.

"One of the first steps is speaking to someone in your own family, but also speaking to GPs," he said.

"Farmers will call the vet when there's a sick animal, reluctantly go to the doctors when there is a physical health issue, but mental health is as much of a priority as physical health and we need to be discussing it with our GPs as well."

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