Agricultural stakeholders in Northern Ireland have joined forces to establish a NI Rural Health Forum to lobby on health issues affecting farming families in the region.

The Northern Ireland Rural Health Forum will be coordinated by Rural Support and will aim to influence public opinion and ensure mental and physical health needs in rural communities - particularly for farming families - are incorporated into strategy and policy development.As well as Rural Support, members of the Forum Steering Group include:
Ulster Farmers' Union; NFU Mutual; United Feeds; Chestnutt Animal Feeds; Moy Park; Ulster Bank; Danske Bank; HSENI; Northern Health and Social Care Trust; Farm Family Health Checks Programme; Rural GPs; Rural Community Network; VetNI; ABP Food Group; Healthy Living Centre Alliance; Community Development and Health Network; and Mindwise.

Rural Health Forum

Speaking after the steering group’s inaugural meeting, Rural Support chief executive Veronica Morris said: “The pressure on farmers and farming families is significant and growing - Rural Support and other farmer-facing organisations are seeing it on the ground, day and daily, particularly relating to mental health.

"Over this past year, with the added challenge of Covid-19 restrictions, it became apparent that the sector needed to unite and do more together to tackle these pressures.

"The Rural Health Forum is the result of a number of organisations coming together for that common good and will shine a light on the needs and level of complexity that rural life brings to our farming families and their mental and physical health; the impact of isolation and loneliness; as well as addressing challenges in accessing appropriate support.

"It will also have a role in undertaking evidence-based research; providing practical information and resources; and, delivering focused events and training so that people across the sector have the information they need to help themselves get, and stay, well.

"One of the first outputs from the forum will be to deliver farmer-facing employee training in mental health awareness and emotional wellbeing which will be rolled out across agri-sector and related businesses over coming months.”

The Forum will also work with similar groups across the UK, incorporating the National Mental Health Forum (Scotland), the National Rural Health and Care Centre (England) and the Mental Health Foundation (Wales) to form a four nations group, which will share best practice and research and ensure that the varying needs of farmers and farming families in the four main regions is understood across the UK.

The Rural Health Forum will meet on a quarterly basis, with the next meeting taking place in summer 2021. Other groups and organisations may join the forum as members in the coming months once the operation is up and running.

Need to talk?

If you or someone you know would benefit from speaking to Rural Support please ring their support line which is confidential and is available 9:00am-9:00pm, Monday to Friday (voicemail and support options available at all other times).

The charity's freephone support line number is: 0800-138-1678.