UCD study uncovers severe mental health issues amongst rural communities

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A recent study conducted by the School of Agriculture and Food Science has presented stark findings for farming communities. Michael Bergin reports.

A recent study conducted by the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science has found that almost 1 in every 4 farmers are considered to be at risk of suicide. The report, coordinated by Dr. Tomás Russell of the School of Agriculture and Food Science, and Alison Stapleton of UCD School of Psychology, also found that just over half of all farmers are currently experiencing “moderate to extremely severe depression.”

The study, which has been ongoing since August 2021, also identified the chief causes behind increased levels of stress in farm communities, with the largest single reason being government policies designed to alleviate climate change. Amongst other sources of anxiety for farmers, “outsiders not understanding the nature of farming” and “limited social interaction opportunities”, as well as a lack of work-life balance, were highlighted as factors piling pressure on farmers.

In the wake of the report, and in response to October 10th being World Mental Health Day, Minister of State with responsibility for Farm Safety Martin Heydon has urged farmers to be vigilant when it comes to their mental health and wellbeing over the winter period.

“Poor mental health can have a serious impact on a farmer’s quality of life” the Minister lamented, “a farmer under stress is at greater risk of being involved in a farm safety accident, and is more predisposed to other illnesses.” 

The report paints a harrowing picture of life in farm communities, a sector of society which has been historically found to have lower rates of uptake in mental health services.

However, increased funding for rural communities has also been secured in the recent budget, with an additional €2.5 million being allocated towards farm safety, health and wellbeing.

In addition to this, the “On Feirm Ground” initiative, which partners farmers with advisers on a range of health issues, has been extended to other professionals working with farmers. 

It is hoped that these initiatives, and the increased funding behind them, can go some way to easing the pressures currently being forced upon farmers by increasing demands to live up to environmental targets. Concurrently, large parts of the farming community have been shown to believe that they are being unfairly made into scapegoats when environmental issues are raised, further heightening tensions for ordinary farmers. It seems as though the drastic responses to a rapidly developing ecological crisis are making their effect felt at the most human level, before many of these responses have even properly gotten off the ground.

The Minister also announced that four farm safety European Innovation Partnerships, focused on mental wellbeing in rural communities, will be funded. How these initiatives will impact upon the troubled mentality of many modern farmers remains to be seen.