Written Evidence submitted by YANA (MH0011)
YANA was established in 2008 to raise mental health awareness and provide support to all who work in the agricultural and rural business community. It provides a confidential telephone helpline, free counselling support and trains Mental Health First Aiders, all ultimately to improve the mental wellbeing of the sector and prevent suicide. The charity operates in East Anglia and Worcestershire. YANA therefore has a strong insight into the mental health challenges facing those in rural communities in these locations.
In response to the questions posed, these are the views of YANA based on first-hand farming knowledge and providing mental health support to those in the industry and rural businesses for 13 years.
The challenges that YANA sees which have a direct impact on the mental health of those in farming and rural communities are:
2.1 There is a level of awareness in the rural GP and regional psychiatric services of the issues facing the community, but they do not have the presence or resources to become closer to the community or provide anything other than emergency support. The role of the third sector, and charities such as YANA, is filling the gap with a unique understanding of the agricultural and rural sector, being perceived as credible and able to relate to the specific rural challenges. YANA and DPJ Foundation (Wales) are the only charities in the UK which are Mental Health specific for the agricultural industry.
2.2 YANA raises awareness through public speaking, leaflet distribution, social media, radio and printed media and the training of Mental Health First Aiders (YANA has trained over 170 people in rural businesses and allied charities). YANA not only provides a confidential helpline (which has seen an 80% increase in calls in 2021 compared to 2020) but critically provides free counselling available within days. The latter would be unaffordable for many in the rural sector and only obtainable through state provision after a protracted wait, if at all.
In 2019, there were 133 suicides registered in England, Scotland and Wales in those working in farming and agricultural related trades according to the Office of National Statistics. These included farmers, managers and proprietors of agricultural related services and those working in agricultural related trades and elementary agricultural occupations – some of the categories included were gardeners, horticulturalist, fishermen and women, forestry workers, grounds workers and greenkeepers – 47 of which were among gardeners and landscape gardeners. (ONS, Farm Safety Foundation)
The 2019 Health and Well Being Report by the Worshipful Company of Farmers noted that farm workers were twice as likely to take their own life as farmers.
3.1 In YANA’s view the higher-than-average rate of suicide amongst those working in agriculture can be attributed to the challenges stated in answer to the first question together with:
4.1 Vets and gamekeepers are also in the high-risk group for suicide: access to the means being a factor.
4.2 Those in horticulture are also high-risk, isolation of the workplace being a factor.
In YANA’s view, given the higher-than-average suicide rate, preventative mental health services are not sufficient, and enhancements should be made to services as outlined in our answers to the further questions in the subsequent sections.
YANA sees prevention as a long-term investment and recognises that measuring the effectiveness of preventative work is challenging. Whilst we can measure our reach and review anecdotal feedback, actually understanding the number of lives saved is difficult.
6.1 The primary support for mental health following ‘shocks’ seems to be provided by the third sector. For example, during the recent pig farming crisis, YANA distributed support information to 80 pig farms in our region and made the National Pig Association aware of the psychological support YANA could provide to its members. The advantage of being a regional, rural based charity is that YANA is in close contact with the industry and can react quickly to need.
6.2 ‘Shocks’ include decisions made by government or DEFRA which have an immediate impact, not just on the industry as a whole, but individuals involved with farming e.g., the recent confusing ruling on muck spreading.
6.3 The impact of culling cattle due to positive TB testing is underestimated. Building a milking herd takes decades: the family line might have been on a farm through generations and the loss of stock is devastating, emotionally and financially.
7.1 YANA works with the statutory services, but the evidence seems to be that the mental health provision remains under considerable strain. The state provision would need to seek a way to demonstrate empathy and authentic understanding of the sector and provide resources to raise awareness and provide support. Op Courage - the specialist NHS mental health service for those current or former members of the Armed Forces could be a model from which to start exploring a co-ordinated focussed agricultural option. The service provides critical support, raises awareness and joins up a common approach sign posts a range of support including that provided by the third sector.
7.2 An example of good local practice: Breckland Council (South Norfolk) has established the Breckland Mental Health Community Partnership to collectively deliver the Mindful Towns mental health training and education programme for small business and community organisations. As an example of local council and third sector collaboration, YANA is providing the Mental Health First Aid training for those in Breckland’s rural businesses.
7.3 Given the evidenced higher suicide rate in the agricultural sector, much greater emphasis and investment must be made by the state in mental health support and suicide prevention, whilst recognising the key causes.