35% of English and Welsh farmers possibly/probably depressed

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) has today, Thursday, October 14, published the findings of The Big Farming Survey, which shows 35% of English and Welsh farmers are either possibly or probably depressed.

The survey, based on over 15,000 responses, concentrates on the health and well-being of the farming community in England and Wales in the 2020s.

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) is a national charity that provides support to the farming community across England and Wales.

Mental health

Mental well-being, the survey notes, describes our ability to cope with the ‘ups and downs’ of everyday life.

According to the survey, 14% of the farming community is ‘possibly depressed’ while 21% is ‘probably depressed’ – meaning 35% of the agricultural community is affected by depression.

29% of the farming community has ‘mild anxiety’, 12% has ‘moderate anxiety’ and 6% has ‘severe anxiety’.

This well-being scoring was based on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale.

The farming sector with the poorest mental health was specialist pigs, followed by less favoured area (LFA) grazing livestock, dairy and lowland grazing livestock.

Gender

Women, more than men, are more likely to experience poor mental health and well-being, according to The Big Farm Survey.

The data suggest that 43% of women are possibly or probably depressed, compared to 33% of men. In addition, over half (58%) of women experience mild, moderate or severe anxiety, compared to 44% of men.

Stress

The four factors largely cited as significant by the farming community in causing stress are: regulation, compliance and inspection, the Covid-19 pandemic, bad or unpredictable weather and loss of subsidies/future trade deals.

On average, farming people cite six factors causing them stress to quite a lot, or a large extent. Women cite more than average (6.7 factors) while men cite less than average (5.6 factors).

Both genders cite the Covid-19 pandemic and unpredictable weather in their top three significant stress factors. Women additionally cite the loss of subsidies/future trade deals while men cite regulation, compliance and inspection.

Stress also varies between farm sectors. Once again, the specialist pigs sector reported the highest amount of stress factors (6.4) while specialist poultry recorded the lowest (4.3).

Physical health

Physical health – as noted by the survey and referenced to the World Health Organisation (WHO) – describes health as the basis for everyday life, a state that is more than the absence of disease of infirmity. Good physical health, in this case, involves pursuing a healthy lifestyle, including minimising hazards in the workplace – an important issue for the farming community.

The Big Farming Survey found that overall:

  • Over one-half of the farming community (52%) experience pain and discomfort;
  • One in four farming people (24%) have a mobility problem, such as walking about;
  • One in five (21%) experience some form of problem undertaking their usual activities; and
  • A small proportion of the farming community (4%) experience problems with self care, ie.e dressing or washing.

Pain and discomfort in the farming community also worsens with age, the survey found, beginning at 20-30% in the age range 18-24 and rising consistently to about 60% by the age of 75.

Providing commentary on these findings, in the forward of the complete survey, HRH The Duke of Gloucester said:

“Concerns regarding the levels of poor physical and mental health and the effects on farming families and businesses echo across our sector.

We hope the evidence [in this report] will help to spur debate and drive forward action. We believe that needs to start now.”

He added that he hopes these results “act as a wake-up call to all who want to help build a better future for the farming community”.