Farming in the UK has been hit by an increase in flooding, drought, and heatwaves in recent years.
The effects of the relentless season of storms have had huge consequences for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the land. Fields flooded, crops destroyed and animals in danger have made recent headlines but this is only the tip of the iceberg. The UK’s farming industry has faced many challenges over the past few years but the emerging mental health challenge may prove the most devastating.
A recent study by leading rural charity the Farm Safety Foundation (Yellow Wellies) revealed that poor mental health among farmers and agricultural workers is of growing concern. In a sample of 450 farmers under the age of 40, respondents almost universally (95%) agreed that poor mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing the industry today.
In addition, the research showed a very clear relationship between average working hours and mental health (as measured by WEMWBS). Those with shorter working hours demonstrated higher levels of mental wellbeing. 61% of farmers surveyed work at least a 10-hour day, 15% working a 14- or 15-hour day with many rarely or never taking a day off. This is something that is giving charities like the Farm Safety Foundation real cause for concern.
In an industry that continues to have the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK, making sure farmers are prioritising their physical and mental wellbeing has never been more important. 21* farm workers lost their lives in farm accidents in 2022/2023, however, there were 36** suicides registered in England and Wales by those working in the farming and agricultural industry in 2021 according to the Office of National Statistics.
This week, the charity will be focusing on the issue through its seventh annual Mind Your Head campaign. The campaign will continue to raise awareness of the various challenges facing the UK’s farming industry, break down the stigma attached to poor mental health in the farming sector, but recognise that there are steps being taken to address it.
Stephanie Berkeley, Manager of the Farm Safety Foundation said:
Mind Your Head launched in 2018 when concerns about Brexit, policies, administration and legislation were causing increased anxiety in the industry. Fast forward seven years and the campaign has grown and is now recognised by 67% of farmers in the UK. Mental health is always a sensitive subject but it’s something that is thankfully growing in importance and profile.
Stephanie Berkeley, Manager of the Farm Safety Foundation
The charity has also been working with Film Director, Rebecca Rose and Swift Rocket Films to premiere an original award-winning independent British short film that explores the aftermath of suicide in a farming family.
WAKE is a film about how a family comes to terms with tragic loss and how they cope both psychologically and practically. Rebecca Rose, the film’s co-writer and director said:
WAKE raises awareness of the under-reported social issue of mental health and suicide in the seemingly idyllic countryside setting and how simple conversations about feelings can start a process to prevent the downward spiral toward the finality of suicide.
Rebecca Rose, Film Director
Starring ‘Gavin and Stacey’ actress Alison Steadman OBE, Poldark’s Mark Frost, Emmerdale’s Louisa Clein and rising star Stuart Campbell, the film toured international film festivals in 2022/23 and, the charity has officially launched it through their social media channels on Monday 12th February as part of the Mind Your Head campaign.
Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.