A study from researchers at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research and national charity The Farming Community Network (FCN) recently found a lack of public appreciation and understanding for farmers, along with the pressures they are under, contributes to feelings of loneliness.
And loneliness can be linked to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
What makes this worse is that there’s often a stigma attached to mental health; people find it hard to open up about their struggles or admit to seeing a therapist, and often, showing vulnerability can be seen as a sign of weakness.
But thankfully, times are changing – as more people come out to talk about their mental health and share their experiences to help others.
So as Editor of Eat Farm Now, I don’t think I could write this article without openly admitting that I too have suffered from depression, and as a qualified Level 3 Mental Health First Aider, I know that it’s fair to say that for me (like many others), there wasn’t one obvious catalyst that sent me into a downward spiral – it was more the adding up of lots of small things over a long amount of time that affected me.
This can mean that when it comes to mental health, there’s a lot to unpick.
So if you are feeling a little overwhelmed by the thoughts in your head, here are my suggestions on how you can start opening up about your mental health…
- Talk to someone
Talking for me was a lifeline (literally), and I fully understand how hard it is to speak to your family, friends or colleagues, so sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger…
The Farming Community Network runs a free and confidential helpline open every day of the year from 7am to 11pm where volunteers provide free, confidential support to anyone who seeks help. If you feel like talking to someone anonymously, can call 0300111999 or email the helpline on email@example.com.
There’s also therapy – which can be got through the NHS, or paid for privately. For me, having an hour a week where I could say what I wanted with no fear of judgement, in a safe space, helped me understand more about myself and why I was feeling the way I did.
Therapists offer professional support, point you in the direction of reputable resources, and suggest techniques (like breathing exercises) that can help you improve your overall well-being. Remember, not all therapists are the perfect fit though, trying out a therapist is like trying on a pair of jeans, sometimes you have to try a few until you get the right one for you!
Yes, it’s a thing, reading can help you learn more about how your mind works, the effect your thoughts can have on your body, and can even improve your wellbeing. The NHS recommends Reading Well as a good source of trusted resources, along with the Overcoming website.
A few of my favourite authors who write about mental health? Bessel Van Der Kolk, Johann Hari, Gabor Mate and Matt Haig. But check the Reading Well website – it’s NHS approved!
- Contact a charity
I’ve already mentioned the Farming Community Network (of which I am now a volunteer), but there’s also Royal Agricultural Benevolent Society (R.A.B.I) which offers financial support to farming people of all ages facing hardship, The YANA Project which provides confidential support, mental health awareness and funding for counselling for those in farming and rural trades in Norfolk, Suffolk and Worcestershire, The DPJ Foundation which supports those in the agricultural sector with poor mental health in Wales, the RSABI which offers practical and financial support and friendship to more than 600 individuals and their families working on the land in Scotland, and The Addington Fund which provides homes for farming families in England and Wales who have to leave the industry through no fault of their own.
And outside of farming, there’s Mind which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem and the Mental Health Foundation – offering information and advice is based on evidence and the lived experiences of real people.
- Remember that motion is lotion
Meditating isn’t for everyone, exercise may not be for all, and junk food may feel like it’s your best friend but… the reality is that moving your body more, occupying your mind with something else that isn’t your day-to-day worries and maintaining a healthy diet really does work (and we have the science to prove it!)
Walking is great, but try and go somewhere else off the farm to really feel like you’re getting away from it all. If meditation seems hard? Try something simple to distract you from your thoughts like emptying out a packet of raisins and counting how many here are, then take one and observe: it’s weight, it’s density, it’s squishiness, it’s look, it’s feel, smell and finally it’s taste. Did that distract you? Trust me it will! And in terms of a health diet? Avoid the alcohol – it’s just not worth it.
- Give yourself a break
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself, it might feel like you are moving one grain of sand from a beach every day – but one grain is better than none, right?
Above all: It’s time to talk.