Mental health in agriculture is the elephant in the room

A survey in August from the Office for National Statistics found that almost one in five adults were likely to be experiencing some form of depression, compared with one in ten before the pandemic.

So why are we still not talking about it more? Why is there still a stigma connected to poor mental health?

Four years ago, we launched Mind Your Head, a week-long campaign to raise awareness of the issues facing farmers today and highlight the wealth of support available across the UK. This week, the fourth annual Mind Your Head campaign will focus on prevention and early identification of the risk factors associated with those living and working in farming in the UK. We will be illustrating what is being done to break down mental health barriers and diversify the skills and knowledge of the industry and those who live and work in it.

A recent study we conducted into 450 farmers under the age of 40 found that mental health issues among farmers and agricultural workers are of growing concern, and have a direct impact on safety on the farm. 88% of young farmers now rate poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem faced by farmers today, up from 82% in 2018. Meanwhile, 89% of young farmers believe that talking about mental health in farming will remove any stigma attached to it – an increase of 9% in the past two years.

2020 will be remembered for the tremendous effort put in by key workers in the industry under difficult circumstances to ensure that we all have the highest standards of food on our shelves and plates. However, just as ‘long COVID’ describes the effects of coronavirus long after the patient has left hospital, neither should we forget that the mental health effects on farmers who have suffered from anxiety due to unique stressors facing the industry will extend long after the virus has gone.

At a time when the country will be eager to hear if there’s a glimmer of hope that normal life will resume or if we are to remain in lockdown, this year’s campaign will shine a light on the collective efforts of those living and working in the industry to tackle the issue and encourage farmers to take notice, open up and talk to each other.

Stephanie Berkeley, Manager of the Farm Safety Foundation said: “Humans are social animals. We not only enjoy each other’s company, we thrive on it. Digital solutions have tremendous value but we mustn’t underestimate the value of talking through our problems. It sounds non-technical, and therefore old-fashioned, but getting farmers to open up is the very first step to building a holistic approach to mental health in the industry.

“It is so important to encourage a culture within agriculture that explicitly recognises how the job can, and does, impact on the wellbeing of everyone living and working in it and how poor mental health can have a direct and deadly impact on the job. Given the year we have just experienced, making sure we are all looking after our physical and mental wellbeing has never been more relevant.

This week, we will be sharing the stories of some incredible people who have lost loved ones to suicide, made difficult career and life choices and hear stories of hope, resilience and the light at the end of that dark tunnel. In an industry that lost 20 workers to farm accidents in 2019, there were a total of 133 suicides registered in GB in those working in farming and agricultural related trades according to the Office of National Statistics and National Records of Scotland. These include farmers, managers and proprietors of ag related services and those working in agricultural related trades and elementary ag occupations.

Stephanie added: “This is a huge concern and one that we need to keep talking about.

In the last 12 months, calls to farming charities have increased so we need to be concerned about the numbers of people in our industry feeling high levels of distress and we need to keep pushing to ensure people know that help is available and encourage them to ask for it. This is your industry, your future and your responsibility to it’s time to speak up, speak out and mind your head.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Farming Help free on 03000 111999 or visit to learn more.

If you are in Scotland please contact RSABI free on 0300 111 4166 or visit

to learn more.