Mental Health Awareness Week is coming up, and so we’re taking a look the impact of mental health on the dairy industry. A study by the Farm Safety Foundation (FSF) found that nearly 90% of farmers under 40 feel that poor mental health is the biggest problem they face. Mental health discussions have been surrounded by stigma in both the agricultural and the wider community, but while we still have a long way to go, this is starting to change.
Anyone who has worked in the dairy industry can tell you that it isn’t your standard 9-5 job. Cows need to be milked come rain or shine, no matter what else is going on. Getting a little separation between work and home life can be difficult, especially if you live on the farm. Over the last year, the pandemic and the lockdowns have led to isolation for many people. This is only compounded if you live in a rural area. On top of that, money concerns from reduced demand for dairy products, difficulties in transporting and selling animals, and personal bereavements and losses from COVID-19 have added up to make this an extremely tough year for many people.
For all that it can seem hopeless at times, there is always someone willing to listen and help. Across the UK, mental health is becoming a much more widely discussed topic. Campaigns like the Mind Your Head initiative, which seeks to promote health and wellbeing in the agricultural sector, or the YANA Project which provides confidential support and counselling to those in farming and rural trades, all come together to support and help those who need it.
What can you do to help your mental health?
1. Reach out
As a species, we are naturally sociable. We form strong bonds and having connections with other people is known to be extremely important for wellbeing. In this time of digital communications and social distancing, it can be hard to feel connected. Taking the first step to reach out to someone else and open up can be hard, but it is worth it.
Working long hours and in isolated places can leave you feeling distanced and alone. Opening up to someone else can help you feel better, and might give them the confidence to open up about themselves as well. Mutual support can help both parties to feel better and more connected.
2. Keep active
Dairying and livestock management is often physically demanding, and going out for run might be the absolute last thing on your mind. Even so, there are significant benefits to regular, more structured exercise. From increased physical health, to reduction of anxiety and symptoms of depression, the benefits are many. Maybe going for a walk gives you the mental space to take some time for yourself. Perhaps a bit of stretching or yoga will help you to relax and improve your quality of sleep. The important thing is to find something that you enjoy.
3. Switch off
It can be difficult to switch off and destress when you have many things to do and a heavy workload. The practice of mindfulness, while it can take some time to master, can be hugely valuable in managing stress or anxiety. It involves slowing down, focussing on the present and trying to actively be in the moment.
4. Relax and have hobbies
Having a hobby or learning something new is a powerful way to look after your mental health. Not only does it allow you to focus on different things, but research has shown that continuous learning is beneficial to mental wellbeing. Creative outlets can help to reduce stress levels and learning new skills can boost self-confidence. Group activities, while difficult at the moment, allow you to connect with other people who have common interests.
There are many good resources on mental health and how to manage yours, and support and advice from professionals and volunteers. The Samaritans are always there to listen if you call, and the Farming Community Network runs a helpline that has experience with people working in the agricultural sector. The FSF’s National Directory of Farm & Rural Support Groups is available here and has a list of all the organisations and support groups you can access.
The first step towards good mental health is often the hardest, but there is support for every step of the way.