Let's Talk About Farmers and Mental Health
05 July 2018
My name is Doreen Bolton. I am the co-ordinator of the Farm Families Health Checks Programme which is rolled out by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust regionally over Northern Ireland and funded by Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs and the Public Health Agency. The service commenced in 2012 and is a portable mobile facility that offers a means for farmers and their families to access health checks in local community settings, such as marts and farm shows.
It is perhaps unsurprising that farmers are under-users of the health service. In my experience, they are very stoic and tend to 'just get on with things'. As a result, they are late presenters with health problems at the GP surgery. Many farmers don’t want to bother the doctor and believe they have no time to spare to attend an appointment. The Farm Families Health Checks van makes access to health checks more available for the agricultural community and works in partnership with other agencies who are involved with the community. A comprehensive health check is provided, including a cholesterol breakdown, blood pressure, body mass index, Diabetic risk, Q risk i.e. risk of a cardiovascular event in the next 10 years. It also provides lifestyle advice on smoking, alcohol, and symptoms of ill health in relation to cancers. There is also an opportunity for farmers to discuss how they feel, which is so important, in light of recent challenging conditions. We encourage them to talk if they feel stressed, anxious or down. Many of them find this difficult to do and the issue of mental health is unfortunately still taboo, even though it's being raised more and more in health check sessions. Mental health is just as important as physical health, so why do we not talk about it?
Farming can be a very lonely occupation; generally farmers work on their own and wives, sons or partners are out working. The pressures on today’s farmer is ever growing with increasing overheads, poor prices, regulatory requirements, paperwork and the uncertainty of the weather - that’s not to mention personal issues that people may have. These can then lead to financial worries which then impacts upon the family and relationships. Farmers tend to keep their worries to themselves. Some can be so stressed that they feel that life is not worth living. This is a very sad situation but help is out there. It's important to talk to someone in confidence about your worries and concerns as sharing a problem brings a pair of fresh eyes and a resolution can be found. The Farm Families Health Checks service can onward refer to Rural Support, advise someone to see their GP or provide them with other contact numbers to access support.
Whilst working on this programme, I have met farmers who just need to talk about their worries. Once a conversation is initiated in this area, they have no problems talking. Many have said that 'it was great to just to talk' and simply need a listening ear. Some farmers have spoken to the nurses about issues they have never spoken to anyone about before, such as financial worries, caring worries, relationship worries, health worries and issues in relation to the farm, such as TB or farm paperwork .
Don't be afraid to visit the van the next time you see it at a farmers mart or a farming event. Get your health check. The staff will be delighted to see you.
Your health is important to us! Farm Families Health Checks programme - 02825635573