Don’t bottle up your wet weather farming blues

Even the sunniest dispositions have been challenged by the wet summer. Put yourself in the place of a farmer managing livestock or crops; record rainfall, below normal temperatures, and low sunshine levels have made every day a challenge.

Living amid nature, farmers cope with all weathers — but resulting stress in 2012 has reached crisis point for some, say IFA officers who are taking extra phone calls, and are being approached by more and more farmers about the weather difficulties they are experiencing.

IFA National Farm Family chair Margaret Healy said: “I would urge anyone who feels as if they are suffering from unmanageable pressure to talk to a trusted friend, family member, neighbour, or call a helpline. Alternatively, please see www.IFA.ie for IFA’s helpful and informative Let’s Talk: Dealing with Stress leaflet.”

“IFA have hosted a series of national meetings to promote greater mental awareness of mental-health problems and services. Speakers from See Change and the National Office of Suicide Prevention spoke at each of the IFA’s 29 county executive meetings and the feedback from these mental-health talks has been overwhelming.”

See Change encourages discussion of mental-health problems in the farming community.

See Change campaign director, John Saunders, said: “For too long, mental-health problems have been shrouded in silence, discussed in whispered tones, and hidden from friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. The stigma associated with mental-health problems in Ireland has to stop, and the See Change ‘make a ripple’ campaign gives people an opportunity to tell their story openly and honestly, to help build public understanding that mental-health problems can affect anyone and that recovery is absolutely possible.”

* In a See Change survey, 57% of Irish farmers said they would not want others to know if they had a mental health problem; 42% of farmers would hide a diagnosis of a mental-health problem from friends; and 27% would delay seeking help for fear of someone knowing about it. Is this understandable, from the viewpoint that they have to appear competitive, as self-employed business people?

>>Rather than competitiveness, the stigma that prevents so many people from being open or seeking help for mental health has its roots in fear and myths. The fact that the majority of people who experience a mental-health problem will go on to recover is still quite a new idea to people. These misconceptions are very strongly felt in close-knit rural communities. Encouraging people to be open is both a cultural and a community issue. This problem of silence around mental-health problems is exacerbated by the increasing pressures of farm life, coupled with isolation. Talking is so critical to mental health, well-being and stress management. Learning to be open about mental health is a farm-safety issue.

* The survey indicated that 45% of farmers would not know how to help someone with mental-health problems. What is the basic advice?

>>The best advice here is the most basic advice; talk and don’t be afraid to talk. Understanding that one in four, or indeed any one of us, can experience a mental-health problem is key to taking the fear out of talking about it. Encouraging someone to seek professional help is also very important, but you are not expected to have all of the answers. Feel free to ask the person how you can best be of support. You can be of help just by being there, listening, and offering your continued friendship.

* Why is stigma such a big issue in mental health? Can the one-in-four affected by mental-health problems every year be treated privately and confidentially, without public knowledge of their problems?

>>Stigma can stop people from coming forward and seeking help, and can make things worse for someone experiencing a mental-health problem.

Of course, people can be treated and recover without anyone knowing, but we can make it much easier for ourselves by recognising that mental health is deeply intertwined with our relationships, shared experiences and role in the community.

Thousands of people around Ireland credit the support of family, friends and neighbours as being the driving force in their recovery. Being open from the start may mean you never have to be burdened with having appointments to hide, but, if you do, it’s great to have people to support you through it.

* See Change is exploring ways in which farmers can be supported, and the mental-health stigma addressed. What ideas are emerging?

>>When See Change began touring the IFA’s county executives, we soon realised that for many of the farmers we met it was the first time anyone broached the subject of mental health. It became more of a consultation on the pressures impacting on Irish farmers’ mental health. These conversations are a crucial first step in creating open discussion, and we’re working with groups on the ground to address these issues, in settings that are familiar to farmers, like the upcoming National Ploughing Championships.

A number of farmers have come forward to share their own stories at See Change events, or in recent radio ads. We passionately believe that when real people share their very real stories about their experiences with a mental-health problem, it has the power to change peoples’ attitudes and end stigma.

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