Monday 10 October, was World Mental Health Day, which marks the beginning of Agriculture Mental Health Week, an opportunity to raise awareness about mental health issues.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine with responsibility for Farm Safety, Martin Heydon, put special focus on farmers’ mental health and wellbeing, stating, “poor mental health can have a serious impact on farmers’ quality of life. A farmer under stress is at greater risk of being involved in a farm safety incident and is more predisposed to other illnesses. Farmers unfortunately experience a disproportionate burden of health problems related to mental health and research has found that they are less likely than the general public to seek help for mental health difficulties.”
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has several evidence led initiatives to improve farm safety and wellness among the farming community. Speaking on these initiatives, the Minister said, “I am pleased to have secured increased dedicated funding of €2.5 million for 2023 for farm safety, health and wellbeing. This will enable my department to continue to deliver new and existing initiatives including those that support farmers mental health and removing the barriers that can prevent farmers from seeking help.”
Chief among these is On Feirm Ground. This initiative, co-funded by the HSE and Department of Health, is a farmers physical and mental health awareness programme to help farm advisors engage with farmers on health issues and signpost them to the necessary supports.
Minister Heydon announced that the initiative is to be extended to other professionals working with farmers, “the On Feirm Ground initiative has been very successful to date, training hundreds of advisors on how to support their farm clients when it comes to physical and mental wellbeing. We should never miss an opportunity when engaging with farmers to spot someone who may be showing signs of distress. That is why we plan to engage with other professionals coming in regular contact with farmers to expand this programme further.”
The department has also funded four farm safety European Innovation Partnerships (EIP’s) focused on mental health in the farming community. The projects focus on addressing challenges around farm safety, health and well-being through innovative approaches which encourage a change in behaviour from the bottom up.
Minister Heydon reminded the farming community of the need to be vigilant around their mental wellbeing, saying, “I am asking farmers and everyone working with farmers to look out for each other and seek help and support if feeling overwhelmed or experiencing poor mental health. As is the case with every health issue, the road to recovery to full health begins with seeking help. There are a number of organisations providing invaluable supports to farmers and non-farmers experiencing poor mental health and their confidential services should be availed of, if needed.”