The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee has said the UK government is displaying a “worrying degree of complacency” on the topic of rural mental health.

The committee’s statement today (Friday, November 3) follows a response from the government concerning the committee’s rural mental health report published in May.

In its response to committee recommendations for a National Working Group on suicide prevention specific to agricultural and veterinary occupations, the government said its Suicide Prevention Strategy, published in September, already encompasses those living in rural areas.

The government also rejected the EFRA Committee’s recommendation for a joint Defra and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) rural mental health policy and delivery team.

In its response to this recommendation, the government said: “Whilst we note the committee’s recommendation for a joint Defra / DHSC rural mental health policy and delivery team, and agree that it is important for both departments to work together to ensure rurality is considered as an issue in delivery of policy, we believe existing channels would be a more effective way of achieving this.

“As set out in this response, there are several areas where collaborative working across
government is already taking place, and this will continue and develop further as
opportunities arise.”

Chair of the EFRA Committee, Robert Goodwill, said the committee was disappointed in the government’s response to its recommendations.

“Our committee was hopeful that the government would recognise the distinct needs and circumstances of the rural population and would follow our carefully considered recommendations to support and protect them,” he said.

“While we recognise that the government has taken measures to support the mental health of the general population, we are disappointed by its rejection of measures to support the specific and identifiable mental health needs of those who live in rural areas.  

“This was an opportunity to make significant changes which could greatly impact our rural communities.

“With this response the government demonstrates a worrying degree of complacency on the issue, and so will fail to confront the significant problem of improving rural mental health.” 

EFRA Committee report

The EFRA Committee’s report in May found that rural workers including farmers face particular stresses, including unpredictable weather and animal health crises, and cited changing and uncertain government policies as affecting their incomes as well as their mental health.

The committee said vets regularly deal with animal mortality, epidemics and “disturbing situations” around testing for tuberculosis (TB), and are “especially affected by stress”.

The report also called for integrated interventions within the Department of Transport and the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology to improve access to rural mental health services, which the government turned down in its response.

The government also rejected a recommendation by the committee that called for a consultation on the effectiveness of the ICS-model in providing mental health services to rural communities.