'There's light at the end of the tunnel': Farmers under financial and other pressures urged to mind their mental health

 

Day three of the ploughing. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Tom Donnelly gets his tractor ready for day three of the competition. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Anthony Brennan from Barrowhouse in Co. Laois before competition got underway. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Mairead McGuinness MEP
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

There is "light at the end of the tunnel" for farmers struggling to cope with the pressures of farming.

This was the main message discussed at the recent launch of Coping with the Pressures of Farming, a joint publication compiled by Teagasc and Mental Health Ireland.

Speaking at the launch at the National Ploughing Championships, Mairead McGuinness MEP - vice-president of the European Parliament - said it's about time that society acknowledges that farming is a difficult lifestyle. She also emphasised that farmers should not suffer in silence if they are feeling under pressure.

"I particularly welcome a growing openness to acknowledge that life can at times seem difficult and stressful, and that farming with its many uncertainties and sometimes solitary natures of work can be especially stressful," she said.

Tom Donnelly gets his tractor ready for day three of the competition. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Tom Donnelly gets his tractor ready for day three of the competition. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

"No-one should suffer on their own, and this tool will see to it that help and support is available."

Teagasc's Barry Caslin explained that the changing nature of farming and increased financial strain that farmers are under can often lead to stress and anxiety for farmers.

"The dynamic of farming has changed considerably, with the pressure on farmers either to scale up or ship out," he said.

"Financial pressures often lead to increased stress and pressure on family relationships. Teagasc understands very well the concerns of farmers who are suffering under huge pressure with loan repayments."

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Mr Caslin stressed, however, that there is "light at the end of the tunnel".

"Though farmers and many others may find it difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I think that there are times when we should take a step back and look beyond such financial pressures and that farmers should feel comfortable talking about any mental health concerns they may have," he said.

Mairead McGuinness MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP

The booklet offers advice to farmers in difficulty and also gives guidance to people and organisations who come in to contact with farmers every day, such as banks, vets, suppliers, accountants, solicitors, agricultural advisors and DAFM officials.

It asks them to be aware of the financial issues and burdens that might be affecting people living in rural Ireland.

The booklet also offers signposts to organisations and resources - from farm management advisors to mental health charities - that can help farmers who are struggling to cope with mounting everyday pressures.

One of the resources mentioned in the booklet is mental health charity Aware, which is on hand to help farmers who may be experiencing low mood or depression.

According to Bríd O'Meara, director of services at Aware, the increased pressure and isolation farmers can feel often leads to depression.

"Anyone who experiences depression tends to isolate themselves. The very nature of farming can be isolating," she said.

"Depression impacts your feelings and your energy and your thoughts and your interest in living and in relationships. The impact that can have on spouses in terms of coping can be very difficult."

Ms O'Meara stressed the importance of making time to meet people and make personal contact with someone every day, even if it's just by telephone.

"Farming is a way of life and a job and that's where pressure and isolation can come from," she said.

"If you're in a low mood it may be the case where you have to make an arrangement and say I'm going to meet someone. You have to make a conscious decision to meet a friend or family member. It's so important that you make that connection," she added.

CEO of Aware, Dominic Layden, echoed these views on isolation but also explained that stigma still plays a huge part in preventing people in rural Ireland from reaching out for help when it comes to their mental health.

"Stigma is still a major issue in rural Ireland today. It's still an issue for young men in particular who may not be encouraged to talk about their problems, whereas women tend to talk more about their problems to each other. People in rural Ireland might be worried their neighbour will find out about their mental health issue as they can be very private and travel long distances to seek help."

You do not have to be depressed to reach out to these organisations. Samaritans CEO, Deirdre Toner, said that most of their calls are from people who have had a bad day and she would urge farmers to contact them even if it's just for a simple chat.

"You do not have to be at crisis point to contact us, most people ring us to simply talk. Loneliness and isolation are big issues in rural Ireland so we would encourage people to pick up the phone and to talk to us," she said.

Samaritans helpline 116 123 Aware helpline 1800 80 48 48

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