On the eve of World Mental Health day (Friday, October 9) the Farmers’ Union of Wales hosted a virtual All Wales Mental Health conference, which explored the wider context of poor mental health in rural communities and what steps need to be taken by Government, decision makers and policy shapers to address the situation, especially as Covid-19 is likely to put further pressure not just on people’s mental but also their finances.
Speakers for the morning session, which was chaired by Farmers Guardian Chief Reporter Abi Kay, included Sara Lloyd, Team Leader, South Ceredigion Community Mental Health Team; Cath Fallon, Head of Enterprise and Community Animation Enterprise Directorate, Monmouthshire County Council; Lee Philips, Wales Manager, Money and Pensions Service; John Forbes-Jones, Corporate Manager Mental Wellbeing Services, Ceredigion County Council and Vicky Beers from The Farming Community Network, as well as North Wales farmer and DPJ Foundation volunteer Sam Taylor.
The afternoon session, which is chaired by well known TV Presenter Alun Elidyr, took a practical approach and heard from various dedicated mental health charities offering hands-on advice for those who are supporting a loved one going through mental issues as well as those who are currently experiencing poor mental health.
The event was also supported by Welsh Government’s Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs,Lesley Griffiths, and New Zealand farmer and mental health champion Doug Avery through video message.
Speaking after the event, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We made a commitment at the Royal Welsh Show in 2017 to do everything we can to help break the stigma that still prevents farmers from speaking about their mental health and seeking the help they often desperately need and deserve. The figures sadly speak for themselves, with 1 farmer a week dying by suicide and many more suffering in silence.
“I would like to thank all the speakers and chairs, and of course those who joined us for the day as part of the audience, to keep this conversation going and establish an action plan of things that can be done at Welsh Government level to help those who are suffering in the future.”
Mr Roberts added that the FUW has written to the Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan, to outline some of the key points which were raised during the conference.
“A point that was made repeatedly during the event was that farmers must be considered as a group of people who have different requirements and needs when it comes to their mental health and wellbeing. Going forward we must put a strategy in place that when a farmer accesses help for their poor mental health through their GP, they do not get treated with the blanket approach that is currently policy,” said the Union President.
It is worth highlighting, Mr Roberts added, that through the very nature of farming, a job that requires a farmer to be at work 365 days a year, the suggestions of taking a few weeks off work is not going to be helpful and as the second option for many GP’s is to follow this up with medication, it must also be recognised that this is not the answer for every individual.
The conference also highlighted that the route to mental health support through a GP is not always the most straightforward of routes and can often take a very long time before the person has access to the support they need.
“We have therefore asked the Minister to consider that in every local authority in Wales, measures are put in place that allow direct access to mental health services, which do not require GP referral,” he said.
Furthermore, it is imperative that the Government works with existing partners to get the right support into the very heart of all of our communities, that a map of services is available easily and that those services can be accessed from the early stages of poor mental health, before the person reaches a crisis point.
A further point that was raised during the conference was that whilst systems are in place through the NHS and many charitable organisations to help deal with the symptoms of poor mental health, the root causes are rarely addressed.
“As we all know the problems on farms are plentiful and some can be addressed by talking about them, others however require the Welsh Government to re-evaluate their current and future agricultural policies - future financial farm support, bovine Tb and water quality regulations are just a drop in the ocean. We will therefore continue to work with the Welsh Government to ensure that everything possible is done, so that new and existing agricultural policies do not continue to negatively impact on our farmers mental health,” said Mr Roberts.