AGRICULTURE inspectors should receive training from psychologists so they can spot farmers who are depressed or at risk of suicide.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has warned Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney that rising levels of suicide and depression among farmers has led to concerns being raised about an 'epidemic' of distressed farmers taking their own lives. Ms Healy Eames has written to Mr Coveney, asking him to provide "awareness training for his Agricultural Inspectors to enable them to handle situations more sensitively where farmers may be 'at risk' of mental health issues''.
The senator said: "It is important that psychologists address Department of Agriculture inspectors on the subject of the mental health and suicide of farmers, as part of their in-service training."
One farmer's wife said the situation had become acute "because of the fodder crisis and the late spring. Farming has changed in the last year, there is an air of despondency . . . the suicide rate is horrendous, it is the untold story".
"Farmers are proud people who are not prepared to share issues and they are particularly isolated after the death of the rural pub," she said.
"The greatest source of stress is inspections: people walk into your farm unannounced like a tax audit. A lot of older farmers struggle with the paperwork, it really should be the case that inspections are seen as an opportunity to support not punish."
Ms Healy Eames said: "Inspectors need to learn about the 'at risk' signs, the use of appropriate and non-threatening language . . . and the risk factors for farmers living alone."
Farmers, she said, "should not live in fear of inspectors".