Vets are now on the frontline of agriculture’s response to the rocketing stress levels currently impacting on farm families across Northern Ireland.

Co. Antrim veterinarian, Paul Crawford, spoke on the matter while attending a mental health seminar, hosted by Rural Support on the first day of this year’s Balmoral Show (May 11-14).

The former president of the Association of Veterinary Surgeons Practising in Northern Ireland (AVSPNI) confirmed that he and his colleagues are now actively looking out for signs that would indicate that farmer-clients are coming under stress.

Identifying stress

Crawford said: “It’s all about identifying small changes in management practices, which could reflect that something much more serious is going on in the life of a particular farmer.

“Farmers that have stepped back from the worming and vaccination of stock is a good example of behavioural change, indicating that circumstances within the farm business as a whole have altered.”

Crawford indicated that veterinarians will engage with client farmers on these matters, if they feel there is a genuine need so to do.

“Vets are also receiving professional guidance on how best to deal with the growing stress levels impacting on their own lives.

“Working with farmers who, themselves, are under growing financial or emotional pressure brings its own inherent challenges.

Support for mental health

Former Ulster Farmers’ Union president Victor Chestnutt highlighted the increasing role played by the charity, Life Beyond, in helping farm families across the island of Ireland cope with sudden death, illness and life changing accidents as they try to look to the future.

"Just over £60,000 has been collected on behalf of the charity over the past three years,” he said.

“The organisation is helping to make a real difference for farming families who are trying to cope with changing circumstances that are just so difficult to adapt to.”

The seminar was hosted by the ABP Group at its Balmoral Show stand. Liam McCarty from ABP confirmed that everyone within that business, dealing with farmers on a day-to-day basis, is now on full alert, looking for any signs of stress that a producer might be coming under.

“ABP takes this issue very seriously. The bottom line is that we will do everything possible to work with suppliers in these circumstances,” he said.    

Current UFU deputy president, William Irvine, also spoke at the seminar. He referred to the ferocious rate of change now impacting on every facet of agriculture.

“I would implore any farmer coming under pressure of any kind to seek advice immediately.

“There is no point waiting for a problem to become a crisis. The good news is that help is available. Organisations like Rural Support are doing a tremendous job in this regard.”