Somerset Chamber member Becky Wright, of New Leaf, has helped to produce a new information film for the county’s farming community through her work with the Somerset Mental Health in Agriculture Group (SMHAG).
Becky is chairman of SMHAG, which is made up of individuals from various rural organisations, with a common interest in raising awareness about mental health in agriculture.
Together, they have launched a new short film which highlights the vital role of support organisations and charities in helping farmers during challenging times and supporting mental health and wellbeing.
The film, titled ‘The Hill Farmer’, features Oliver Edwards, a well-known Exmoor farmer, telling his story of dealing with pressures on the farm at the same time as battling a diagnosis of colon cancer. This took an enormous toll on Oliver’s mental health, and he had suicidal thoughts.
Initially Oliver found getting help difficult, as he shut himself off from others and didn’t want to burden those around him. Thankfully, his diagnosis served as a ‘wake-up call’, which motivated him to ask for help.
Oliver said: “I felt really down and couldn’t see any way out. I found it difficult to speak about what I was feeling. Those who aren’t from a farming type of world can struggle to relate, as they don’t know the same types of stresses that you might be under. I felt a bit foolish, and didn’t think others would understand the problems I was facing.
“I’m usually seen as being the stable person and the rock who others come to for help. When you’re in that role, it is hard to be the one to ask for help.
“If I’d spoken to somebody earlier about the stress of what I was going through, it could have really helped my mental state. I urge those watching to talk to somebody. Talk to a neighbour, a family member, or organisations like The Farming Community Network, RABI or the NFU. Someone will have been in a similar situation to you and will understand.”
The Farming Community Network (FCN), a charity and voluntary organisation with volunteers in England and Wales, has seen an increase in the percentage of calls to its Helpline (03000 111 999) over the past year that contain a mental health component, such as stress or anxiety.
Becky, who runs mental health training courses throughout Somerset and the South West, said: “’The Hill Farmer’, as well as being a very powerful film, will make an ideal training tool. The issues that Oliver talks about are central to an understanding of how farmers see themselves. I am developing a course which uses the film to help train others in giving support to the farming community.”
The film was financed by The Bridgwater Agricultural Society (BAS), as part of its role in supporting farmers in Somerset. Last month, a study by the Farm Safety Foundation revealed that 88% of farmers under the age of 40 rank poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today. Some 89% of young farmers believe that talking about mental health in farming will remove any stigma attached to it.