Written Evidence submitted by Dr. Caroline Kamau-Mitchell (MH0025)

 

How pesticides, social isolation and other factors raise the risk of stress and mental disorders among farmers – review of scientific evidence

This evidence report will help the United Kingdom’s Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee learn about the current scientific evidence concerning the mental health of farmers. I am a scientist from Birkbeck, University of London, who specialises in research about occupational health, and I teach about the connection between mental disorders and work. In this report, I will summarise the results from researchers who conducted a systematic review of 167 publications which examined the mental health of farmers, referenced below. [1] The review used a gold standard method called PRISMA (the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) which promotes a high-quality approach in the way that research comprehensively search for, find and extract data from published research. It is an important method in science because it helps readers assess key questions – what research has been published about a topic, what is the quality of that research, and what can be summarised from that research? This evidence report summarises the findings of that systematic review [1] to help with Parliaments inquiry into mental health in rural areas, with a focus on the mental health of farmers. Key information about the method used in the review [1]:

The researchers [1] found that the way in which research about farmers’ mental health is typically conducted includes relatively good quality methods of measuring mental health, e.g.:

Key findings from the systematic review [1] are that 20 out of 28 studies which compared farmers’ mental health with that of another occupational group found that farmers have worse mental health. Some research suggested that farmers are more likely to die from stress-related conditions than people from other occupational groups, but this finding should be treated with caution without further evidence using meta-analytic methods (that is, the statistical calculation of effect sizes across different studies). The researchers [1] concluded that there are certain risk factors – that is, things which increase the likelihood of farmers suffering from mental health problems. These include:

  1. When farmers are exposed to pesticides.
  2. When farmers have financial problems.
  3. When farmers feel uncertain about the weather.
  4. When farmers have a prior injury or physical illness.
  5. When farmers lack relationships or feel lonely or socially isolated.
  6. When farmers work with family members, and feel that their roles (e.g., husband, wife, parent) conflict with work-related roles.
  7. When farmers find the workload heavy, hazardous, or stressful.
  8. When farmers feel under time pressure.
  9. When farmers are dealing with government policies or paperwork.

The researchers’ findings [1] suggest that farmers can be encouraged to seek help by promoting the idea that one should not deal with mental health concerns by themselves, by improving farmers’ access to mental health services, and reducing the stigma that mental health problems have in rural areas. As well, it will be helpful for:

With this knowledge about current scientific evidence, and the above recommendations, Parliament can help to protect the mental health of farmers in the United Kingdom.

 

 

January 2022

References

[1] Daghagh Yazd S, Wheeler SA, Zuo A. (2019). Key risk factors affecting farmers’ mental health: A systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(23):4849.