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  • Writer's pictureNikki Latham

Farmers Mental Health Prior To Covid Was Already Troubling But Solutions Looked At

Many farmers mental health had already hit a critical point prior to Covid-19, and sadly the support available widened the existing cracks in support.

Researchers from Universities of Reading, Exeter and Sheffield found that already struggling farmers worsened during the pandemic. Having seen their income change to a the basic payment system to support farmers following Brexit was named as one of the many reasons for this initially, but as the pandemic continued the heightened issues such as isolation, bureaucracy and climate conditions all added to their woes.

MPs, agricultural leaders and academics met earlier this year to hear the results of the Landscapes Of Support For Farming Mental Health project, which was funded by the ESRC in response to the effects of Covid-19 pandemic and farmers.

Sadly, formal and informal support networks disappeared during the lockdowns and calls for mental health first aid training for the agricultural industry, were the the findings of the report.

Dr David Rose, Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at the University of Reading who led the research said: “Like many people in society, Covid-19 had a profound effect on the agricultural community, but one of the biggest impacts was to widen the already existing cracks between farmers and their support networks, and exacerbated the poor mental health that many farmers were already experiencing.

“Covid itself was just the tip of the iceberg, with the biggest change to agriculture as a result of Brexit beginning in January 2021. Against the backdrop of huge regulatory change, the first wave of the global pandemic was especially hard on farmers with the driest spring on record, the removal of formal and informal support networks and major shifts in patterns of consumption and demand.”

Many organisations would usually play an important role supporting agricultural communities, but the due to lockdowns and the pandemic in general these were not as available as in normal times. Charities also lost out on vital funds, being unable to fundraise, and the often rural locations contributed to access but also added to the mental health issues.

Dr Caroline Nye, Research Fellow at the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter said: “Formal support systems for the agricultural community have long played a vital role towards maintaining not only business resilience but also personal wellbeing. The challenges currently faced by farmers continue to put pressure on their business, their resources, and their health. "It is important to understand how farmers might best be supported into the future, and how support organisations’ sustainability is impacted by major crises like Covid-19, as the sector faces some of the most important transitions in agriculture of this generation.”

Dr Ruth Little, Lecturer in Human Geography and member of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield said: "In addition to Covid-19, post-Brexit policy uncertainty weighs heavily on the minds of farmers and their families - it has created a ‘perfect storm’ in terms of fuelling stress and anxiety. This project points to important evidence on both the need for support mechanisms to be in place and indicates ways to ensure that this support is effective, well-funded and as joined up as possible".

Advice to shift some of the available support online was suggested but due to the rural restrictions on a reliable broadband connection made it difficult too.

The project received £190k in funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESCR), as part of UK Research and Innovation's rapid response to Covid and a full report is available to read.

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