McGuinness: ‘Breaking the silence builds resilience’

It has been outlined that there is a need to “break the silence on mental health issues” affecting the farming community; the lead being taken by some farmers has been described as “welcome, necessary and brave”.

MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness, made the comments when delivering the opening address at Embrace FARM’s Resilient Farmer conference in the Killeshin Hotel, Portlaoise this morning, Thursday, April 25.

The MEP said: “The textbook image of the strong farmer battling all weathers and all tasks is not a reflection of the realities of farmers’ lived experience.

A dangerous occupation

“We know farming is a dangerous occupation from the high level of accidents but farms are also lonely places where increasingly, farmers work alone and neighbours work off-farm. This can impact on health, both physical and mental.

The focus on safety and the need to tackle the level of fatalities and serious injuries on farms needs to show results – thus far this is not the case.

“While we can count fatalities, we do not count pressures on farmers’ mental health and well-being, but we know from experience that this is an issue.

Accumulation of issues

She said Brexit has added to pressures. “The uncertainty it has created and the constant fear about its impact on the farming and food sector is testing farmers’ resilience.

“Sometimes it’s the accumulation of issues – tiredness after lambing or calving, leading to inability to sleep coupled with fears for the future – together these can push people over the edge,” she said.

McGuinness also believes that climate shaming of farmers is adding to pressures on farms and not helping advance this important issue.

The MEP warned that rapid expansion in the dairy sector with farmers increasing cow numbers brings its own inevitable pressures.

Labour shortages

McGuinness warned: “Labour shortages are very real and dairy farmers cannot cope with large numbers of cows calving alone.”

She also cautioned against the tensions between farmers in different sectors and regions which could drive a once united community apart.

She urged farmers to look after both mental and physical health and not let fear or pride prevent them seeking help when pressures mount.

She highlighted the Teagasc publication ‘Coping with the Pressures of Farming’, which emphasises that staying well mentally is just as important as staying well physically.

McGuinness asked that family and neighbours watch out for symptoms of persistent stress and support those affected.

Concluding, McGuinness thanked Norma and Brian Rohan of Embrace FARM for “their foresight in organising the conference and bringing together people with different and difficult experiences to highlight the vulnerabilities of farmers and the need to help build resilience and provide supports”.