Claire Wright, CLA Regional Surveyor considers the issues of mental health within the rural community
A major part of my work with the CLA is advising members on a whole range of issues and problems as they arise. It is not physically possible to see everyone that needs advice, so much of my day is spent on the phone talking to members. Most of this is fairly routine work relating to planning, tenancy matters and rural crime but occasionally you get a call from someone who is greatly distressed. One of those calls came relatively early in my CLA career where the member was so stressed about losing his tenancy and his home that he told me that he was going to take his own life as he no longer had anything left to live for. It took all my strength to keep him calm and keep talking to him whilst my Regional Director at the time was calling the police to get help to him as soon as possible.
This was a pivotal moment in my career. It was the first time I had come face to face with mental health issues. I was able to attend a Suicide Awareness training session with Farming Community Network counsellors. The training covered important things about what to say to someone who is contemplating suicide and reminded us that we shouldn’t feel guilty if someone then went on to complete suicide as if they had been set on that course of action nothing could have dissuaded them away from it.
In farming and the ancillary professions, the suicide rate is twice as high as the national average which equates to more than one agricultural worker taking their own life each week. This is down to many causes – farming is an increasingly lonely occupation, still very male dominated (males in the 45-49 age bracket are more likely to die by suicide than in any other way) and when you ‘live over the shop’ it becomes very difficult to get respite from your problems. When you add increasing uncertainty because of political turbulence and the fact that many farmers have access to the means of taking their own life leads to a potent mix.
The CLA take mental health amongst its members very seriously. The advisory team regularly have updates with Farming Community Network staff to ensure that we are equipped to talk with people who are experiencing periods of stress or worse. I was also sponsored by a local farming mental health charity, You Are Not Alone to attend the full two-day mental first aid course. It was an intense and emotional experience but one that I really valued as it taught us how to listen to people, how to phrase open questions and how to assist people who were going through a mental health crisis from anxiety attacks to schizophrenia.
The member who sparked my interest in mental health is now in a much better place after advice from the CLA legal department resolved many of his problems and it is lovely to hear how much better he sounds when he calls the office to talk through other matters.
Remember that no matter how impossible your situation seems you can turn to the CLA for independent advice on the issues that are causing you stress and know that they will be handled in a sympathetic and sensitive manner. I always tell members that I am only at the end of the phone if they need a chat or a bit of a rant. Because after all from time to time it’s okay to not be okay.
Helplines and crisis contacts for farmers
If you feel low, or know somebody who needs help, please contact charities and get support immediately.
You can find a list of regional support groups and key national charities which can specifically help those in the rural communities by viewing the National Directory of Support Groups by clicking here.
You can also view a list of useful contacts below:
- RABI Freephone helpline: 0808 281 9490 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Farming Community Network Helpline 03000 111 999 or email email@example.com
- Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) HOPELineUK 0800 068 4141
- Mind Call 0300 123 3393, email firstname.lastname@example.org or text 86463
- Samaritans Call 116 123 or email email@example.com
- Samaritans Welsh language line 0808 164 0123
- Tir Dewi Call 0800 121 4722 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Community Advice & Listening Line for Wales Call 0800 132 737 or text 81066
- Rural Support in Northern Ireland 0800 138 1678
- Scottish Association of Mental Health 0141 530 1000
- Citizens Advice Find your local office on www.citizensadvice.org.uk