Written Evidence submitted by Rural Action Derbyshire (MH0006)

 

This response has been prepared by Rural Action Derbyshire, an independent charity and member of the Action for Communities in Rural England (ACRE) network of rural community councils. We have been working to address rural disadvantage since 1924.  We are the host of Derbyshire Rural Chaplaincy and we deliver Suicide Awareness Training on behalf of the Derbyshire Suicide and Self Harm Prevention Network.  Rural Mental Health is such an important issue as we feel that service providers and commissioners do not always understand the pressures and barriers affecting people living in rural areas that can affect mental health and make it difficult to access help.

Question 1

What specific mental health challenges are faced by those living and working in rural communities?

Many people in rural areas feel isolated and access to services is difficult or challenging.  The mental health problems are the same as the general population but perhaps more surprisingly poverty plays a key part in rural mental health.  The cost of living is spiralling generally and this is felt more strongly amongst people on low and very low income who live in a rural area.  This is having a devastating effect on mental health.  Coupled with isolation caused by distance, geography and loss of social connections, many people feel increasingly isolated and lonely resulting in higher incidences of mental health issues.  Farmers in particular feel anxious about the future, which seems to be out of their control and threatening their very way of life and that of their families.  They are amongst the least likely to seek help for their mental health due to stigma, difficulty in accessing services and their stoic nature.  

  1. Poverty exists as much in the countryside as in urban areas – but is often more hidden and dispersed thereby being far less visible. 

Not being able to feed your children or keep warm has a massive effect on mental health.  People in rural areas also have less access to low cost food, and rented housing in rural areas is often poorly insulated with inefficient and expensive heating.

  1. Many rural communities are also changing their very fabric due to housing and employment pressures causing a net outward migration of low paid workers and an incoming population of more wealthy professionals.  This loss of social connections has been further impacted by the closure of village halls, lunch clubs and other social occasions and many older people in particular have lost their social connections and become withdrawn and anxious. Some people in rural areas can go days without seeing another human being.
  2. We know from our own experience as well as published surveys such as the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) survey of farmers in 2021, that farmers feel under attack from vociferous and often uninformed campaigners around issues of veganism and climate change.  They often feel undervalued and that rural communities are changing beyond recognition.  They feel that they have no control over their own destiny and that the decades of experience and love for the land that they represent counts for nothing any more.

These feelings feed and drive many other issues eg loneliness and isolation, anxiety and depression  (RABI, 2021) and social and geographical isolation is also a factor (Mills, 2016) particularly with younger farmers. 

  1. Currently many farmers are anxious about the future of farming with good reason.  The changes to the Basic Payment Scheme are already being felt and reducing farm incomes.  Many farms, particularly tenanted extensive grassland farms producing lamb and suckler beef (which make up a significant part of our county) may not be viable without support (Farmers Weekly 31.12.21).

The new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) is expected to mitigate for the withdrawal of area based support but take up so far has been poor.  There is a great deal of anxiety given that full details yet of what is available to farmers is unknown, and many are very hesitant about ELM schemes based on previous experience under Countryside Stewardship schemes. We are aware that many land owners are hedging their bets and not renewing tenancy agreements or offering only short extensions to FBTs whilst they wait for more details. There are concerns that ELMS will result in fewer, larger farms resulting in less opportunity for young entrants due to high land values, lack of housing and employment. (Farmers Guardian 31.12.21)

 

Question 2

What is the current state of mental health & suicide prevention service provision for those working in agriculture and those living in rural areas more generally? Do they meet the specific needs of that community?

Current State

MH and suicide prevention services are no different in rural areas than in towns and cities.  The NHS provides its initial services for mental health care mainly through GPs and A&E in hospitals.  Community services also cover rural areas.  However, there are differences in the rolling out of such services:

 

Meeting the needs of the Rural Community

Question 3

What are the causes of the higher than average rate of suicide amongst those working in agriculture? Are there other linked professions, such as vets, that have similar issues? How effective are suicide prevention services offered to these groups?

 

 

Question 4

Is sufficient mental health support made available to rural communities following “shocks” such as flooding or mass animal culls?

Question 5

Does the Government’s recent investment in mental health services adequately provide for agricultural mental health?

 

 

Question 6

How joined up are key actors, such as Defra, DHSC, NHS England, Public Health England and Local Government in their approach to improving quality of, and access to, mental health service in rural and agricultural communities?

References

Brailsford, E and Mills, S, 2020, Analysis of Perceived Needs of Young Farmers in Derbyshire, Derbyshire Rural Chaplaincy.

Mills, S, 2016, ‘Rural isolation:  Can computer mediated communication help?’, Rural Theology, 14, 12 – 24.

Mills, S, 2017, ‘Loneliness:  Do Interventions Help?’, Rural Theology, 15(2), 113-123.

Nye, C, Winter,  M and Lobley, M, 2021, More than a Mart: The role of UK Livestock Auction markets in Rural Communities, Full Report to Prince’s Countryside Fund, London:  The Prince’s Countryside Fund.

RABI, 2021, The Big Farming Survey, The health and wellbeing of the farming community in England and Wales in the 2020s, Oxford:  The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.

Russell, D W, 2014, ‘Loneliness and social neuroscience’, World Psychiatry, 13, 150-151.

 

January 2022

 

 

 

 

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