Devon Young Farmers highlight rural isolation and mental health in online agri-debate

PUBLISHED: 17:08 22 September 2020

Devon YFC debate at the 2019 Devon County Show. Picture by: Guy Newman / Rekord Media

Devon YFC debate at the 2019 Devon County Show. Picture by: Guy Newman / Rekord Media

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Devon Young Farmers Club (YFC) with groups in Axminster and Honiton is inviting discussion on mental health in the agricultural industry in the fourth of its online agri-debates.

The virtual debate, supported by NFU Mutual, is called ‘How can we combat rural isolation and impacts on mental health?’ and will take place on Thursday (September 24) at 7:30pm. It is free to watch.

YouGov research, commissioned by the charity Samaritans into how the pandemic affected the mental health of men, showed nearly half (45per cent) of those aged 20 to 59 in rural communities in Great Britain agree that they have experienced feelings of anxiety during lockdown.

Over half - 59 per cent - say they feel worried about the future.

Around a third (32per cent) of men aged 20 to 59 in rural communities say that talking to others helped with concerns and worries they had during lockdown, showing the importance of seeking help and getting support when they need it. 

Devon YFC is bringing together a panel to tackle the topical issue, share the importance of talking about mental health, and discuss how farmers can support each other.

Chaired by David Fursdon, Lord Lieutenant of Devon, the panellists are PC Martin Beck, rural affairs officer for Devon and Cornwall Police; Alice Giles, 2019 Devon YFC chairman who advocated mental health training to all clubs in Devon whilst she was in post; Joanne Jones, assistant coordinator for The Farming Community Network in Devon; and Ruth Poulten, CSR consultant for leading rural insurer NFU Mutual.

The online debate is part of series of sessions organised by Devon YFC and NFU Mutual, bringing together experts from all aspects of farming and agriculture to discuss topical issues and share best practice.

Helen Bellew, Devon YFC Agri chairman, said: “With long hours, stresses of busy farming environments and rural isolation just some of the issues farmers may face, we wanted to highlight the importance of looking after your own mental health and ensuring those around you are okay too – research has shown just how much talking to each other can help.

“It’s not something that’s limited just to men or just to farming, mental health issues can touch anyone and, for many, have been exacerbated by lockdown.

“We feel it an important topic to discuss with our members and the wider farming community.”

Ruth Poulten, corporate social responsibility consultant at NFU Mutual said: “This mental health debate is very timely. The COVID pandemic has created new and increasing challenges for our rural communities across the generations, something which we’re acutely aware of.

“Our members have told us about feeling trapped inside their homes, unable to engage in their usual daily activities, the strain of juggling work and family life, financial pressures due to job losses or furlough.

“Poor rural broadband and connectivity and the digital divide have also all impacted many people’s lives.

“For some, this has led to feelings of heightened anxiety and fear about the future. 

“The good news is, that many are turning to friends, family and neighbours for help, and they’re also using telephone helplines and e-counselling for support.”

Running once a month from June to September, previous online agri-debate topics have including recruiting and retaining new entrants to the industry, productivity versus the environment, and profitability and diversification. Previous sessions are available to view on the Devon YFC Facebook page.

To register to attend the free online debate, visit http://bit.ly/Devon-YFC-rural-isolation.


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