Group highlights mental health struggles farmers face
PUBLISHED: 08:22 24 January 2020 | UPDATED: 09:47 27 January 2020
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With one farmer taking their own life every week, Luke Broadley felt he had to act.
Luke, who is a director at a farm insurance brokers near Ipswich, has worked with farmers throughout his career, and knows the kind of burdens and problems which they face on a daily basis.
Now he is working with a group of concerned individuals - including Suffolk County Councillors James Finch, the council's chairman, and Jessica Fleming, chairman of the health scrutiny committee - to help highlight the issue, the taboos that surround it, and be a driver of change in the industry.
They want to get the wider public to understand the contribution farmers make and the challenges which beset them.
They are encouraging farmers to talk to organisations which can help them, and also holding events to raise awareness, and providing a conduit to help farmers get the support they need through farm charity organisations such as YANA (You Are Not Alone) and RABI (the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution).
Mark Whyman and Jill Girling, members of the team at Luke's business, Longfield Risk Solutions at Otley, have got on board, as have other farm businesses, such as Ruth Goudy and Ralph Hardy of Kiln Farm Nursery in Ipswich.
Longfields team members were among a host of people from the industry to attend a YANA 'mental health first aid course' at Otley, where they learn to identify the signs of mental stress.
Working in the insurance brokerage industry, and seeing farmers regularly, Luke feels he and his colleagues are well placed to spot problems and signpost people under stress towards the support they need.
"I think if we save one life it would be worth it," he says.
It was a trip to Ireland which first prompted Luke to get involved in trying to help. He got talking to a young farmer who had come close to taking his own life - but thankfully was pulled back from the brink.
"The finances weren't where they should be and he cut his wrists - but luckily his mother found him. It was due to farming pressures, but a lot of it was loneliness and being outside on his own," he recalls.
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One of the things his team tries to do is to see customers face-to-face, he says.
Some see this as old-fashioned and backward, but it has meant that they have been able to point customers to organisations which can help them, he points out.
As brokers, they see all kinds of predicaments faced by those in the sector, from an accident to a farmyard theft. "It's an opportunity to talk all things farming, including how they are," says Luke. "We are only trained to spot the signs and direct them to the various charities."
Financial strain is a major driver of stress among farmers, along with uncertainty and new legislation, he says.
James Finch has been very open about his own battle with mental health issues, and now tries to highlight help available and persuade those affected that there is light at the end of the tunnel. He supports mental health charity Suffolk MIND and promotes the work it does.
"What are the groups of people they are more concerned about? 40 to 60-year-old males sadly appear towards the top of the list because they are more and more working on their own and more and more under pressure," he says.
Agriculture helped him out of a "bleak" place as a teenager, he says. His number one piece of advice is to be prepared to talk about it.
Ruth Goudy, whose family runs a 1,000-plus acre operation, explains how she had got on board, and how the Kesgrave garden centre diversification and its facilities now help provide a space for people to come together and combat loneliness.
"I'm really invested in mental health and one of the reasons we built this coffee shop was there was quite a lot of loneliness and people wanted a chat. We wanted to provide an environment where we could do that," she says.
Plants and natural environments help improve mental health, she believes, with studies backing that up. "There's a theory that being in nature literally affects parts of your brain," she says.
Over its three generations in the family, practices on the farm have changed hugely, she observes. In her grandfather's day hundreds worked the land, while her father had a team of two, three or four. Today, farm manager Ralph works on his own.
"Males find it hard to communicate - they don't necessarily share," she says. Working away from people, farmers, often male, lack opportunities to socialise with women. Added to that, the low price of food has put pressure on the farming industry, and supermarkets could be difficult customers.
"You are expected to sign a contract for these goods, but they can come up with any small reason why they don't want it," she says. "The climate in farming is difficult."