Meg Elliott on Mental Health
In a recent article in the Farmers Guardian, “Meg Elliott, auctioneer with Bagshaws and Leek Auctions highlights the importance of auction marts to farmer’s mental health.”
The invisible challenge facing farmers
In an Industry that continues to throw increased pressures upon farmers, many of which are out of their control, is it any wonder that the sector has some of the worst statistics in respect of mental health and wellbeing?
Figures are becoming increasingly worrying with 36 per cent of the community admitting they are or have been, either down or depressed and 84 per cent of the younger generation of farmers (under 40) believe mental health is one of the biggest invisible challenges to face farming.
But, most shockingly of all is that the agricultural sector features in industry’s highest rate of suicides with 44 people taking their lives in 2020/21.
Long working hours, isolation, financial worries, weather, TB to name a few all play their part in putting huge strain on families where husbands and wives are not only expected to carry out extensive practical and physical work but also be switched on business people dealing with the relentless stream of paperwork, compliance and legislation that now seems to be compulsory to be a successful farmer. Not to mention the issues that can be thrown at any one of us in life such as grief and marital stress.
This issue is not going away and indeed might be expected to get worse, which surely emphasises the need to meet this issue head on, something that is being recognised by many organisations including the Farming Life Centre and the Prince’s Countryside Fund which have both produced recent literature highlighting the growing problem alongside national initiatives such as “Time to Talk Day”.
One might ask what has this got to do with the auctioneering industry? However, we have this amazing community within livestock markets that facilitates and encourages social interaction for farmers.
A place not only to do business but to chat, discuss and learn. I, therefore, believe it is our moral and ethical duty to utilise this existing platform and thriving rural hub to raise awareness and educate with a view to breaking down stigma and barriers and encourage understanding, kindness and empathy. Because in truth, life is difficult for us all at times and there is absolutely no weakness in asking for help, it in fact takes tremendous strength and courage to reach out.
I am particularly passionate about this subject having had personal experience and as individuals working within livestock markets, I feel it is important for us to recognise the role which we can and do play.
A simple smile and “how are you?” can be instrumental in allowing somebody to feel they can open up. A willingness to listen is often all that might be required and more often than not, we may not be able to solve a problem but by giving a person the opportunity to chat it through, can relieve the pressure that can build exponentially when dwelled upon in isolation.
As an auctioneer I am a natural people watcher and can often observe colleagues or clients that do not appear to be their normal selves. Do not be afraid to ask if someone is ok, and perhaps the crucial key is to ask again because that second time of asking can suggest a genuine act of caring that initiates the chat that person might really need.
I know we are all busy doing our jobs and living our lives, but fundamentally kindness costs nothing and that simple act could be the turning point in somebody’s mind that lifts their mood or indeed encourages them to seek help.
Having recently completed a Level 3 Mental Health First Aid Course for within the workplace, we, as a group of people learning, were presented with numerous analogies underlining barriers that need to be chipped away at and broken, in relation to mental health, particularly with the farming industry where the stiff upper lip mentality is so prevalent.
One of the most resonating points was the automatic and perfectly normal action we would take were we to have a physical health problem. We contact the doctors and nearly always automatically seek help without a second thought.
Why should this be any different for an issue that is mental health related? Our mind is probably the most important faculty of the body and its wellbeing should be just as integral.
Many understandably fear judgement, however, I would advocate that no one has the right to judge as no one has any idea what is going on in another person’s life.
There are numerous avenues all of which are entirely confidential that can offer help, provide advice and sometimes just be a listening ear for anyone struggling.
FCN and RABI both provide an invaluable service that nobody should be in fear of using. Their websites provide extensive information of the help they can provide and details of the helplines are listed below.
In essence as we have heard so often recently and rightly so, ‘be kind’. Look out for others and for those who are in need in any way, please reach out because there is absolutely no shame in asking for help.