#MindYourHead week: Agriculture staff and students advocate for mental health support in farming
The #MindYourHead campaign, organised by The Farm Safety Foundation, returns for its sixth year this week, with a rallying call for farmers and industry organisations to work together to combat anxiety, stress, and poor mental health in agriculture.
#MindYourHead week offers a chance for those within the sector to learn more about the support services available. Hartpury staff and students have come together to highlight the importance of campaigns like this.
Growing pressures and uncertainties are contributing to a deterioration of mental health – hardly surprising when you consider the challenges facing our farmers. Whether it’s unusually hot summers or dry winters, supply chain issues or soaring energy bills, farmers are constantly having to adapt to things outside of their control. This can take its toll.
For farmers, time can be a precious resource that’s not always in abundance. At various times of the year such as calving, lambing, harvest, sleep can be compromised when farming takes priority. Lack of sleep can affect our ability to process thoughts, emotions, and actions, and therefore have a significant impact on mental health.
“External factors including politics, economics, and disease can all lay heavily on the minds of those working in agriculture and can feel quite overwhelming,” explains Wanda McCormick, Head of Animal and Agriculture at Hartpury University.
Wanda continues: “Even during the busiest times of the farming calendar, it’s important that farmers make time for themselves and their loved ones. Things like getting enough sleep or eating well are easier said than done but are so important.
“Our global food chain relies on farmers, so their wellbeing and mental health is in the interest of us all.”
The agricultural industry is regarded as one of the most resilient, yet working conditions and external factors can make it extremely challenging at times. Therefore, encouraging farmers to talk and share their experiences - good and bad - is at the top of the agenda for many rural organisations.
Philip Watson, Associate Head of Agriculture at Hartpury University said: “In the sometimes isolated and high-pressured environment of agriculture, talking to others on the farm, in the rural community and in professional services is a great way to support your wellbeing and mental health.”
Organisations such as local vets, NFU, commodity groups, and the Farming Community Network often put on events for communities. These events provide an opportunity for communities to gather. This again can help reduce loneliness and pressures of farming.
Philip is passionate about the topic having sat as the Landex representative on the mental health and wellbeing forum. Landex represents the 40-land based colleges and universities in the UK.
Research into mental health in farming continues to ramp up. Joe Goodenough, a PhD student at Hartpury University recently received a ‘Centenary Award’ bursary from The NFU Mutual Charitable Trust for his ongoing research into the wellbeing of dairy farmers. It’s hoped that research like this will allow organisations to react accordingly.
Farming has come a long way, and a younger more diverse workforce is helping to open the door to conversations around topics like mental health. But there’s still work to do.
Research from the Farm Safety Foundation revealed that four out of five young farmers (under 40) believe that mental health is the biggest problem facing farmers today.
Finley Wootton, a Level 3 Extended Diploma Land-Based Engineering student at Hartpury College added: “I’d agree that mental health is one of the most important things in farming, yet it’s still not spoken about enough. Initiatives like #MindYourHead week are extremely important to help farmers realise they’re not alone and that help is always available. We need to keep mental health high on the farming agenda.”
Mental health, like physical health, can vary from day to day. Issues can appear because of experiences in both personal and working lives – or they can just happen without explanation. The long-standing stigma around mental health has often made it difficult for people to speak out about their struggle.
One of the ways to fight this stigma is to ensure everyone can talk openly about mental health but also knows how to provide and access support. This might include knowing how to spot the warning signs and being confident to signpost colleagues to the support available.
Tomos ‘Jac’ Parry, a BSc (Hons) Agriculture student at Hartpury University said: “Events like #MindYourHead week are vital for young people in the industry as it reminds them that it’s okay not to be okay, and to discuss their struggles more openly.
“I believe that events like #MindYourHead week are a breath of fresh air for agriculture and can encourage people to take the first steps in talking about their mental health struggles."
Claire Whitworth, Deputy Principal at Hartpury College, also agrees when it comes to the importance of high-profile campaigns like this.
“We must continue to raise awareness of the importance of talking and seeking help to support mental health and wellbeing. #MindYourHead week is a good way to instigate these conversations,” says Claire.
“There are many support options available now and it’s important that people know where to go to seek help when needed.”
Learn more about the Farm Safety Foundation’s campaign here.
Hartpury University and Hartpury College is home to a team of qualified counsellors, nurses, wellbeing officers and a chaplain, ready to provide advice, guidance, and support when it’s needed most. A busy calendar of events includes the ever popular Wellfest, a student wellbeing event that takes place during Freshers’ Week. In addition, 24-hour support and wellbeing workshops are designed to help students take care of themselves and their friends. Academic support is provided at all levels to ensure students are managing their studies and accessing any help they might need.
In 2022, Hartpury University’s commitment to mental health was recognised with the University Mental Health Charter.