FARMERS’ mental health and resilience in the pandemic is being studied in a major new project led by the University of Reading.
It has received £190,000 in funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid.
A team from the University of Reading, Exeter University, and the University of Sheffield will be looking at the experiences of farmers, and exploring how Defra and other bodies can better support farmers and rural communities in times of crisis.
Dr David Rose, Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of agricultural innovation and extension at the University of Reading will be leading the project.
Dr Rose said: “We already know that farmers’ mental health and wellbeing is a major challenge. Working long hours in a stressful job and often in isolation, and four-in-five agricultural workers recognise that poor mental health is a major issue facing the sector.
“The global pandemic has clearly had a major impact on mental health and wellbeing for many in society, and thanks to the funding from UKRI we can really unpick the extent of that impact for farmers and rural communities more widely. We know that key sources of support for rural communities – friends in the pub, agricultural shows, on-farm demonstrations – have been unavailable for many during the pandemic.”
He said the project will work with key charities and organisations to understand how to better protect the agricultural community in future crises.
Research from The Farm Safety Foundation suggests that many farmers struggle with poor mental health.
A recent survey conducted by the organisation found that more than 80% of farmers under the age of 40 believe poor mental health is the biggest hidden problem that they and their peers are facing today.
Professor Matt Lobley, director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter said the project will complement current work, by looking into the range of organisations helping farmers
He added: “It is often overlooked that farmers are key workers. Understanding to help them become more resilient is important at any time and even more so during the pandemic”
Dr Ruth Little, lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Sheffield said: “Brexit uncertainties coupled with Covid isolation make it all the more important to understand how farming and rural organisations are helping to support individuals in responding to these shocks and transitions.”
In October 2020, The Farming Community Network, a national charity which supports farmers and farming families in England and Wales, noted nearly half of the calls to its helpline from June 2020 onwards related to mental health due to stress caused by Brexit, Covid-19, financial concerns and other issues.
Dr Jude McCann, CEO of The Farming Community Network, said: “For some within the farming community, the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened feelings of stress, anxiety and other forms of mental ill-health.
“The cancellation of many events in the farming calendar, as well as limitations on being able to travel and visit others, can exacerbate feelings of isolation and loneliness, and accessing face-to-face support has been made more challenging.”