OUT of all the rural service providers they work with, UK farmers are most likely to turn to their vet for help with mental health issues.

A recent study has found that over 60% of rural professionals had found themselves in a situation where farmers have expressed signs of poor mental health – yet only 11% had enough knowledge or confidence to respond, with vets emerging as the profession most farmers would prefer to confide in.

The findings highlight the continuing challenge of poor mental health in the UK’s rural sector; a study from The Farm Safety Foundation found 81% of British farmers under 40 believe mental health was the biggest problem facing agriculture and the industry has the second highest rate for suicides.

Kate Tomlinson, a graduate surveyor at GSC Grays and farmer’s daughter, is the young rural professional behind this latest research. She found that despite several mental health organisations throughout the UK geared towards supporting farmers, farmers were often not accessing professional help and instead expressed their poor mental health to rural professionals who had little to no training in mental health.

“There are several barriers to accessing help which are unique to the rural sector," said Ms Tomlinson. "Often farmers work in solitary conditions and cannot leave the farm to access support, however loneliness and social isolation are two significant contributors to mental health. It’s therefore those who visit or work with farmers who may find themselves in situations where farmers express their poor mental health.

“The type of relationship farmers had with service providers was the prevailing factor regarding whether they would seek mental health support from them. However, many rural service providers would not feel comfortable offering mental health support to farmers due to lack of training. In particular, those professionals under 40 would feel less comfortable offering mental health support to older farmers, due to their perceived lack of life experience, or due to older farmer’s increased privacy and stigmatisation of mental health.”

In addition to the need for mental health training amongst vets and other rural services providers, Kate’s research confirmed that greater signposting is needed – from making leaflets available, to connecting charities and those in need through email or social media.

"The stigma of and barriers around farmers and mental health are very specific to this sector which can lead to farmers excluding themselves from standard mental health services available," she said." With such a high incidence of mental health problems in the farming sector, more research is needed to tackle this crisis.”