THE FUW explored what help is available in rural communities for those suffering with mental health and welcomed Executive Officer of Tir Dewi Gareth Davies, Farming Community Network Wales Regional Director David Williams, and Emma Picton‐Jones of the DPJ Foundation to its Pavilion at the Royal Welsh Show.
The seminar, ‘It’s Ok to say’ ‐ putting the spotlight on mental health in the farming community’, was chaired by FUW education and training Committee chairman Alun Edwards, who personally has experienced the stress of poor mental health.
Speaking ahead of the seminar, FUW president Glyn Roberts said: “The ‘stiff upper lip’ is synonymous with the rural farming community and most farmers just get on with things. Many may be hiding problems from themselves and their families and friends and talking about personal feelings is uncomfortable for many.
“We’ve faced some pretty low‐points as a farming community in the last few years, TB, price volatility and uncertainty about our future post‐Brexit, this all puts a strain on our resolve. But it’s about time to break the stigma attached to mental health and if you’re feeling vulnerable, please open‐up and speak to someone.”
Emma Picton‐Jones, a primary school teacher with two children Mali 5 and Trystan 2 and a dairy farmer’s daughter, set up the DPJ Foundation after her husband took his own life July 2016.
The foundation aims to support people in agriculture and in the agricultural community by reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health and supporting them by signposting them to support systems that are available. Their aim is to set up a talking therapies service specifically for people in the rural communities, men in particular who struggle with their mental health. They also aim to ease isolation in rural communities by working with men’s sheds Wales.
In the year since setting up the foundation it has gained registered charity status, raised in excess of £25,000, Emma has received a Local Hero Inspiration Award and has been named as part of a national group of 30 people who have been recognised as people who will shape the future of Wales in the next 30 years.
Sharing her personal experience, Emma said: “Although having never experienced poor mental health to the extent my late husband did, I have seen first‐hand the devastating effect it can have on a person. I lived through a roller coaster ride of ups and downs with Daniel over the last 5 years of his life. Daniel very much felt that he was alone with his feelings, he felt isolated and as if no one really understood what he was going through. However, he was completely wrong, thousands of people are going through what he went through every day.
“Agriculture carries a high rate of poor mental health for various reasons, isolation and given the fact it is a male dominated sector are just a couple of reasons and added to that the pressure that comes along with being a modern‐day farmer all adds up to a recipe for possible poor mental health. What I think these men and women need to realise is that they are not alone.
“The single most effective thing you can do to help yourself is to talk. Talk about your struggles and about what you are feeling. Just by telling someone what you are going through is one of the biggest steps you can take ‐ you will feel a weight lift off your shoulders. Importantly if you are that person being talked to you need to listen. It is too easy to offer advice and positive thoughts and ways forward but ultimately that person has taken a huge step to talk to you and you need to just sit and listen and let them take the weight off their shoulders. Support is out there, if you feel that your mental health is suffering the first thing to do is talk to your GP.
“The more conversations we have about mental health the more
comfortable people will feel talking about it and we can reduce the stigma that surrounds this awful illness that affects so many.”
A charity that helps farmers and farming families affected by poor mental wellbeing and provides practical and pastoral support through difficult times is The Farming Community Network (FCN). David Williams, FCN’s regional director in Wales, is no stranger to the kind of difficulties that farmers face.
His farm operated a dairy unit of 150 Holstein cows before the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak took its toll. As well as looking after the 35 FCN volunteers based in Wales, David is also FCN’s lead contact with the Welsh Government on farming‐related issues.
He said: “People seek support from FCN for a number of reasons. They could be anxious about farm support payment, stressed about harvest or depressed about losing their cattle to Bovine TB. But the most common factor in almost all cases is poor mental wellbeing.
“If this is not addressed, the consequences can be devastating. Mental health is less of a stigma than it once was in farming. People are beginning to realise that bottling up your emotions is the worst thing you can do. But there is still much work to do. Farmers and farming families need to continue talking openly about what they are experiencing. FCN is on hand to listen to farmers who are struggling and will treat their case confidentially and without judgement.”
Gareth Davies, Executive Officer of Tir Dewi, is responsible for its development and operations and leading and coordinating a team of dedicated volunteers. Gareth joined Tir Dewi around eight months ago following a career in business and consultancy and is using his development and project management experience to help him in the role.
While he has never farmed, his mother is from a sheep farm in mid‐Wales so he has empathy with farming. He also lives in the rural heartland of Pembrokeshire and is surrounded by dairy and arable
arms. The more he learns of the multiple challenges faced by our farmers the greater his passion for helping them to overcome their problems.
Gareth Davies said: “The variety and intensity of challenges faced by farmers in Wales is staggering. Trying to deal with them all alone when already working 16‐hour days is not sustainable. Tir Dewi wants farmers to know that they don’t have to be on their own, we are always ready to talk and offer support in whatever way we can.”
Following the seminar Alun Edwards said: “We had an encouraging discussion which moves the agenda on. There is still a stigma in admitting that this illness is widespread in the farming community, but meetings like this can only make a positive difference. We were pleased to have such valuable contributions from the the panel members from Farm Community Network, Tir Dewi and the DPJ Foundation, the main charities representing the rural community here in Wales.
“As a public figure, I have been shocked by the response from the farming community to me opening up on the subject and I hope that
my experience of talking about it as the first step to cure can be shared amongst other sufferers. We have also come to the conclusion that we need a lot more clarity as to where to turn for professional help and we call on government to reduce waiting times for treatments in this context.”