There is no secret that the farming way of life is hard work and throws challenges at you daily.
When you consider the long working hours, financial strain and isolated working environments and then combine that with unpredictable weather, vocal activist groups and a fluctuating trade market, it is completely understandable why 84 per cent of farmers under 40 believe that mental health is the biggest concern and danger facing our industry.
It is also this concoction of factors that results in the heart-breaking statistic of one person a week takes their own life in our industry alone.
However, despite these devastating statistics and the challenges we face there is still a deep-rooted stigma that speaking out about mental health is considered weak.
We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health.
There is more acceptance that it is ok to be physically unwell, however far less acceptance that it’s ok for our mental health to be suffering.
We really need to normalise the two and help make these conversations comfortable for people to have.
Stoicism of always being ‘ok’ needs to be a thing of the past.
What worries me the most is the potential impact of the times we are heading into right now and what these mean for us individually and as an industry.
Winter itself is already one of the hardest seasons on the farm, the days are shorter and we all wish for more hours of light to finish the endless list of jobs.
The ground is wet and boggy, the grass growth plummets, the trees become bare as we break into the winter feed we worked hard to produce earlier in the year. Even popping out to check the stock takes longer as you drag on your winter layer and wellies.
In ‘normal winters’ there would be many opportunities to pull us through the dark days, things that bring us together through the week and allow us to share the load of this farming life.
When I first came into farming I worked in the local pub.
This gave me the opportunity to get to know local, but it opened my eyes to just how important ‘the local’ was for the farming community.
It was the common ground for people to meet, almost the farmer equivalent of the workplace ‘staff room’.
Suddenly this ability to meet has been taken away, which for some is taking away their main community lifeline.
We all know that trips to the auction aren’t just to sell our stock, in fact it’s also a great socialising opportunity for us, as well as a cracking breakfast!
Pool and dart nights as well as society meetings and young farmers club, break up the week and bring individuals together and allow people time to get off the farm for a change of scenery.
This year is different, we are two days into lockdown 2.0 and ahead of us is four weeks of remaining within your household with no socialising or visiting other family or friends.
Some might argue that we’ve been here before, we know what to expect and we can get through this again.
I am absolutely all for this positivity, however let’s not underestimate just how different this lockdown will be.
First time round we were ‘lucky’ in the sense that it was spring, we had the sunshine, and therefore high levels of vitamin D, we had brighter longer days, and we could spend lots of time outdoors relaxing in the evenings.
Last time we naturally saw other people who were out and about exercising, but given the cold winter day, even these chance meetings will be few and far between.
Let’s be really honest, COVID combined with the natural winter challenges can easily have a negative impact on anyone’s mental health and I mean anyone.
You will have to be almost bulletproof to not feel the impact of these two things combined. So how can we minimise the impact?
Random acts of kindness go a long way in testing times like these, and they can change someone’s day within an instant.
Sometimes even the smallest gestures can have a massive positive impact.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask a friend how they are feeling and don’t be afraid to say you aren’t fine if you are struggling.
If you normally meet for group, like “Grass Club”, don’t stop, instead make the most of technology and meet online instead.
Remember that even though we are all in the same storm, we aren’t all in the same boat and people struggle at different times.
Communication, openness and honesty is what will get us all through this next lockdown, keep our community together, and keep us farming on.
Remember it’s ok not to be ok, you are never alone, there is always help available.
Stay safe and let’s look after one another.
We will get through this together.