The latest blog from NFU Cymru National Environment and Land use Adviser, Rachel Lewis-Davies delves into the topic of mental health and how dealing with current uncertainty can increase anxiety and have a detrimental impact on mental well-being, she writes...
There can be little doubt that this is a time of significant change for Welsh farming with issues such as Brexit, future policy, regulation and returns from the market all cause for concern. In September, Public Health Wales and the Mental Health Foundation published a report ‘Supporting farming communities at times of uncertainty’. This sets out an action framework to support the mental health and well-being of farmers and their families.
The report refers to Public Health Wales’ recent health impact assessment of Brexit which highlighted that farmers and those living in rural communities will probably see a major negative impact in the short to medium term, due to the potential loss of income streams and export markets, and readjustment to new regulatory frameworks.
Dealing with uncertainty can increase anxiety and have a detrimental impact on mental well-being amongst farmers, their families and rural communities. Farmers experience high levels of stress and anxiety due to a lower sense of control over farming sector processes (competition, regulation and price margins) and the wider environment affecting farming practice.
The report identifies that addressing these issues and protecting against a potential detrimental impact on the mental health and well-being of farming communities is needed in order to build a prosperous and resilient agricultural sector in the future.
The report makes a number of recommendations in the two key areas of preventing uncertainty and challenge from adversity; and promoting mental health and well-being amongst farmers and farming communities.
Importantly, through its recommendations, this report prioritises prevention and seeks to address the root causes. In the context of the developing future policy, the importance of co-producing future policy decisions with the farming community is emphasised to ensure solutions can sustain a viable farming business and be implemented effectively, rather than taking a top-down approach without practical consideration.
The report also recognises the high levels of stress due to the complexity and anxiety about changing regulations and the fear of making mistakes. It is pleasing that the report recommends that Welsh Government assess progress against the 2011 Working Smarter Review recommendations to streamline the administration and regulatory processes in farming.
Overall, this report rightly acknowledges that improving the mental health and well-being of farmers and their families is of considerable importance with the benefits of a resilient farming sector, extending beyond the farmers themselves, contributing towards the health and well-being of rural communities, local economies and Welsh culture. It is vital that Welsh Government and all those with an interest in agriculture and our rural communities now work together to take forward its recommendations.