Farmer stress study - help needed

18 January 2017

IOSH Rural Industries Group (RIG) Members may have read on Twitter or in farming media about this new online 'tool' and study on 'farmers stress' by the Institute of Mental Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, and their call for volunteers to take part in a research study. RIG members are encouraged to raise awareness of this important Feasibility Study which will help the research team develop their online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)-based 'Life Skills' course for the farming community.

Although initial articles announcing this project, e.g. in Farmers Weekly online (8 November 2016), mentioned that the University of Glasgow were working together with NFU Scotland (NFUS) and the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RSABI) to encourage Scottish farmers and crofters to take part in the pilot study, the invitation is extended to farmers throughout UK.

RIG Support

RIG welcomes this project as it will contribute to HSE's Strategy: 'Helping Great Britain work well' which recognises work-related stress as a major issue within the Tackling ill health theme. HSE reports that stress is the second most commonly reported cause of occupational ill health in Great Britain, accounting for 37% of all work-related ill-health cases, and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health. However, farmers, their families and staff are not good at reporting or discussing this issue, or other causes of ill health.

Yet there is evidence of widespread depression and suicides are not uncommon amongst the farming community, sadly often including young as well as older people. Farming charities have also seen a big rise in the number of people turning to them for help, as tough times in agriculture continue. See interesting article: 'Charity calls rocket as farmers reach out for help' (Farmers Weekly online 20 June 2016).

IOSH/RIG anticipates that the pressures on farming are likely to increase and with reducing incomes, cash-flow problems and uncertainties preventing investment, this will also impact adversely on safety on farms. In view of all these factors, IOSH/RIG has recently pushed for this topic to be included specifically in HSE's new Strategy for Agriculture.

University of Glasgow Farmer Stress Research Project
Research indicates that farmers and crofters may be particularly vulnerable and many may not want to, or are unable to access formal health care services for support.

This study is investigating the usefulness of an online course to teach key life skills, based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Research suggests that such training can help counter low mood and anxiety, and that it works best if it is relevant to the people that are using it. This project is intended to improve and tailor the on-line resources for the farming community.

This project is being offered to farmers over the age of 18 years, who are willing to use and evaluate the online course. Volunteers will be interviewed by telephone to gain detailed feedback on the modules, which include problem solving; improving confidence and mood; and challenging negative thoughts. Weekly automated emails also accompany the course. Once participants agree to take part in the study, they will be asked to complete some questionnaires, which they will complete again once they have finished the course.

You can e-mail any questions to Harriet Bowyer, the trainee clinical psychologist running the study, directly via info@farmerstress.com

Other Support services

RIG members can also help to recognise and mitigate the effects of stress by referring those affected to this on-line resource, as well as to the support that is also freely available via local GP's, NHS 24, other telephone support services such as The Samaritans, Breathing Space and other groups such as the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), RSABI in Scotland and the Farming Community Network (FCN) which links and works together with many other local charities and rural support organisations. (See introductory article about the FCN explaining how the charity can help hard-pressed farming families).

The Yorkshire Rural Support Network in partnership with the Yorkshire Agricultural Society has been encouraging farmers to have frequent health checks and have been targeting Yorkshire livestock marts and machinery shows over the past year to encourage farmers to have a basic '(health) MOT'. These involve blood pressure and blood sugar monitoring alongside cholesterol testing and an 'informal chat' about diet, smoking, alcohol and mental health.

Kate Dale, Yorkshire Rural Support Network co-ordinator says she is pleased the farming community had come to trust the nurses and see them as a 'credible source of help'. Kate also said: "We are very encouraged to be seeing more of the younger members of our farming community as many of the older members with existing health conditions are already seeing their own GP on a regular basis. Our younger members seem prepared to seek out help early and are more willing to acknowledge the early signs of what may become a serious health issue for them."

The final scheduled opportunity this winter is at the Yorkshire Machinery Show, York Auction Centre, on Wednesday February 8 2017.

Please play your part and help to save lives.