Farmers' health and wellbeing needs to be at the centre of Brexit response – new report

More needs to be done to protect against the potential detrimental impact of Brexit on the health and wellbeing of farming communities in Wales, and to challenge the stigma associated with seeking help, according to a new report.

The report, co-authored by Public Health Wales and the Mental Health Foundation, provides frank insights into concerns farmers and farming organisations have about the potential impacts of Brexit on health and wellbeing in their communities, as well as the wider challenges the sector faces.

Farmers and farming organisations talk openly about their concerns regarding the viability of farming as a business, financial pressures, regulatory and administrative burdens, difficulties with succession planning, isolation and loneliness, and farming culture which can be a barrier to seeking advice and support from others.

The report says that more action is needed to prevent uncertainty occurring in the first place, to protect against the negative impact on mental wellbeing, and to promote health and wellbeing in the farming community. 

It recommends activity to reduce the amount of administrative regulations, co-produce and involve the farming community in developing a viable vision for the future of farming in Wales, and ensuring rural communities are not left behind in terms of accessing and using digital technology to support their health. 

Mr Jack Evershed, farmer and chair of Rural Health and Care Wales, said:

“As a farming community we have a strong tradition of giving our neighbours practical physical help like lending a hand or a tractor when we see they need that help.

“It would be great if we could become equally adept and competent at identifying emotional or psychological problems and knowing the appropriate response. Hopefully this research will identify how the farming community can be supported to achieve this.”

Dr Alisha Davies, Head of Research and Development at Public Health Wales, said:

“For generations our farming and rural communities have responded to hardship by drawing on their own considerable strengths. However, the focus on their health and wellbeing is often not prioritised.

“Our new report highlights that - whilst Brexit is a concern - there are many other challenges in farming today, and it is this accumulation of adversity which puts undue pressure on farmers and their families. We need to work with farming communities to better coordinate support, integrate health, and encourage early access to help when needed.”

Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director of Mental Health Foundation for Wales and England said: 

“Our research comes at an important point in time, when financial uncertainty and family pressures are at a peak for farmers in Wales.  It is a stark reminder that national plans sometimes neglect the impact on mental health for professionals and communities who face vulnerabilities.  But it also provides a new contribution of evidence on how we can prevent important health problems for farmers and their families, and how we can implement plans to improve wellbeing which will have wider positive impacts on business and resilience.”

The report focuses on action across three key areas: 

  • Preventing uncertainty and lessening the challenges 
  • Protecting against the potential impact on mental health and wellbeing
  • Promoting mental health and wellbeing amongst the farming community to support resilience in times of adversity

It also outlines proposed solutions, informed and co-produced by organisations that work with farmers and the farming community, focused on the need for better awareness of the support available, working across organisations to recognise stress and anxiety, and for farmer-led, peer-to-peer solutions.

For example, the reluctance of farmers to engage with health professionals could be managed by delivering support through non-health professionals, with a good understanding of the farming context, such as other farming community members, veterinarians or other agricultural agencies.

The report concludes that alongside action to prevent uncertainties the farming sector encounters, a focus on mental health and wellbeing of farmers and their families is essential to building a resilient farming sector in Wales.

Download: Supporting farming communities at times of uncertainty