Farmers most likely to turn to vets for mental health support

New research has shown that out of all the rural professionals they work with, UK farmers are most likely to turn to vets for help with stress and mental health issues.

And 58% of farmers are more likely to seek help if the rural professionals they work with have undergone mental health awareness training.

Over 60% of rural professionals have been in a situation where farmers expressed signs of poor mental health, yet only 11% had enough knowledge or confidence to respond, with vets emerging as the profession most farmers would prefer to confide in.

On ‘Time to Talk Day’, the findings highlight the continuing challenge of poor mental health in the UK’s rural sector.

Research into rural mental health

A study from The Farm Safety Foundation found 81% of British farmers under 40 believe mental health was the biggest problem facing agriculture and the industry has the second-highest rate for suicides.

Kate Tomlinson is the young rural professional behind this latest research. As a graduate surveyor at GSC Grays and farmer’s daughter, she found that despite several mental health organisations throughout the UK geared towards supporting farmers, farmers were often not accessing professional help and instead expressed their poor mental health to rural professionals who had little to no training in the area.

Tomlinson said: “There are several barriers to accessing help which are unique to the rural sector. Often, farmers work in solitary conditions and cannot leave the farm to access support however loneliness and social isolation are two significant contributors.

“It’s, therefore, those who visit or work with farmers who may find themselves in situations where farmers express their poor mental health.

The type of relationship farmers had with service providers was the prevailing factor regarding whether they would seek support from them. However, many rural service providers would not feel comfortable offering mental health support to farmers due to lack of training.

“In particular, those professionals under 40 would feel less comfortable offering mental health support to older farmers, due to their perceived lack of life experience, or due to older farmer’s increased privacy and stigmatisation of mental health.”

As well as the need for training among vets and other rural services providers, Tomlinson’s research confirmed that greater signposting is needed – from making leaflets available to connecting charities and those in need through email or social media.