Frontline worker on double tells of stress in face of poor prices

Co. Galway suckler farmer Tomas Faherty, who has worked on the frontline on the double – in farming and security – during Covid-19, has urged anyone affected by stress to reach out for support.

“Farmers are very bad to talk and to express themselves in general,” said Tomas, who lost his mother in early February. “Fortunately, we were able to give her a good send-off and I feel very sorry for families who have been unable to have proper funerals due to Covid-19.”

Combining working in security in Galway during the pandemic with being away for so long from the farm at a key time was pressurised, he said.

“I was working a 48-hour week, four days a week and trying to get home to the cows. There were occasions when I thought I had come in contact with people who had the virus but, thankfully, it emerged that they didn’t. The fear factor was always there however.

“I have two 5:00am starts and it was very stressful but I had to keep going. I had no real choice in the matter with prices for stock being so low. Everybody needs food and it’s our natural resource but farmers seem to be fighting on all fronts,” Tomas said.

“The lack of available labour has been difficult to deal with and all farmers around me have been up to their eyes. It’s just go, go, go,” he said.

Live exports

Delays in shipping live cattle to Algeria and the prolonged spell of dry weather meant the farming situation hasn’t eased, Tomas said.

“We have to have live exports to have some competition with the factories. It’s a downward spiral and the situation with the present minister for agriculture, and the forming of the new government and the possible involvement of the Greens, doesn’t help.

The cow has remained in the field during Covid-19 at a time when carbon emissions have declined sharply so farming can’t be blamed for everything.

Small improvements would make a difference to farmers, Tomas contended. “Even small price increases would help. The reopening of the marts has been positive as a bit of banter can really ease things. Life is precious no matter how hard it is and it’s always worth living.”

Free support service

Rural Ireland has really felt the impact of Covid-19, according to the co-founder of Connect A Coach, a nationwide goodwill initiative that provides support free of charge to those on the frontline.

Ailbhe Harrington from Kilkenny said that the 2016 Central Statistics Office (CSO) findings showed that 11% of nurses and 10% of care workers were married to farmers who are also frontline workers.

“GPs in rural Ireland are under immense pressure as there are not enough of them. This was the reality before Covid-19 so without question GPs need a supportive space to help them take care of themselves in the midst of our new reality,” she said.

“Then there are the pharmacists; cleaners in hospitals; staff in nursing homes and care homes for the disabled; direct provision centres; and all the managers and admin staff supporting those on the frontline,” Ailbhe said.

In terms of loss and death, clergy and funeral directors in rural Ireland have had to hold the grief of families who have not been able to have all those who love them with them while they say their last goodbyes at funerals, she said.

Without question, the frontline workers and communities in rural Ireland need to be able to access professional free support through Connect A Coach where there is space for them to be listened to and where they can begin processing this unprecedented time and the trauma that some may have experienced.

‘No time for burnout’

Connect A Coach, founded by professional coaches Ailbhe Harrington and Karen Hayes, who is from Valentia Island, aims to support the mental health and well-being of frontline workers who are now feeling the effects of the pandemic, exhausted and running on empty.

“We all know this new reality will go on for some time, yet there is no time for burnout. Our frontline staff need to lean into support to keep them focused and positive in the months ahead,” the founders said.

It’s really important to reach out. I know it takes a lot of courage to reach out and share what’s going on for us. If we leave it too long we end up burnt out.

“Coaching offers a space where we can talk to someone confidentially, feel heard and find ways to access our strengths and wisdom so we can keep stepping forward,” Ailbhe said.

“Self-care is vital if we want to have the necessary energy to care for others. A conversation with a professional coach can enable you to pause; reflect; gain clarity; and find a way forward that works best for you.

“Connect A Coach’s panel of professional coaches are volunteering their time and skills and are being supported by volunteer coach supervisors who are supporting them to work ethically and professionally.”