Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 8 December 2016

Stress and late diagnosis ­ the silent killers for farmers

Ken Whelan

Published 27/11/2016 | 06:00

The statistical evidence is stark - farmers have a higher death risk than any other occupation in Ireland, with the main causes being heart disease, cancers and farm accidents.

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This was the stark message from senior Teagasc adviser Tom Gleeson at last week's ICSA's meeting on rural isolation and coping, called to highlight the current state of farmer health throughout the country.

"While farmers continue to work in the fresh air and spend their days being active, they are less likely to do regular cardio exercise, watch their diet, wear sunscreen and - most importantly - visit their doctors," he told a packed attendance at last week's meeting in Kilrush Golf Club, Co Clare, adding: "The main reason for poorer health among farmers is late diagnosis."

Speakers at the meeting included Seamus Sherlock of the ICSA, Garda Supt Martin McGonnell, and Peter Gohery, a farm accident victim and founder of Embrace, the rural safety awareness and support organisation.

Teagasc adviser Tom Gleeson
Teagasc adviser Tom Gleeson

"I have been working in west Clare for some 10 years now and I walk onto farms which are at the mercy of the weather, large livestock numbers, heavy machinery, deep tanks and high power lines, and it is left to farmers to create a safe environment for both children and elderly family members," said Mr Gleeson.

"Added to these on-farm dangers are the time pressures, bureaucracy, tightening finance availability and decreasing social supports for the farmer, and these factors are adding to the stress within farming communities."

All these issues, when endured over a long period of time, can lead to mental fatigue and eventually depression, and if they are not addressed they increase the chances of farm accidents occurring, he said.

Social supports were critical in tackling the problems, which are emerging from rural isolation, and one of the best ways to address them was "to talk".

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"If you talk, solutions will emerge. Don't let the stress grow into something more serious or wait for something serious to happen, like a farm accident," he emphasised.

On the enterprise side of the stress question, he urged farmers to grow their businesses efficiently through prudent investment and low overheads. The alternative would only create a huge amount of stress.

"Bills need to be paid, tax needs to be paid, loans need to be paid, but the family needs should be taken care of as a first priority."

Garda Supt Martin McGonnell and Garda Sergeant Edel Burke, who have been organising these community-based rural meetings since their inception last year, told their audience that farmers should not be afraid to admit that they were affected by isolation, coping problems or stress brought on by the loneliness of their job or by financial pressures.

Step

They emphasised that the first step required in facing up to these problems was to admit that there was a problem in the first place.

Sergeant Burke said that there was always help at hand from neighbours, friends, community activists and the Gardai themselves.

"Farmers are afraid to admit they have a problem and often the stress they are under is the cause of the farm accidents which can kill or main, and most of these accidents are caused by simple on-farm mistakes with farm machinery or livestock," she said.

"These accidents may be avoided if the farmer got in touch with a trusted neighbour or friend.

"They should contact the Gardai if they can't find help, because the Gardai will find the help that is required."

Last week's meeting was the fifth in a series organised by the Gardai and ICSA in Co Clare since the initiative on rural isolation, coping and farm accident prevention began in the autumn of last year.

The next meeting is scheduled for Kilfenora in three weeks' time.

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