Covid tip of iceberg for farmer mental health

North Devon Gazette

Farmers’ mental health was already at a critical point prior to Covid-19, which widened existing cracks in support, according to new research.Â

Researchers from the University of Reading, the University of Exeter and Sheffield University found that while Covid-19 led to worsening mental health among farmers, those surveyed said that they were already struggling prior to the pandemic. Â

Incoming changes to the basic payment system to support farmers following Brexit were a major factor for worsening mental health, alongside heightening issues such as isolation, bureaucracy, and climatic conditions.Â

Neil Parish MP, Chair or the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee who attended the presentation of the research said: “I’m glad to be attending this workshop tackling mental health issues in rural communities. Farmers and others in these communities often face stress caused by isolation, insecure incomes and unpredictable weather.Â

“My parliamentary committee has launched an inquiry into rural mental health and I’m hoping we’ll learn valuable lessons from the ‘Landscapes’ project.Â

“Expert research into this issue from the ’Landscapes’ team and others will help inform the recommendations we’ll eventually make to the Government about how its support to rural communities on mental health matters can be improved.”Â

Dr David Rose, Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at the University of Reading, who led the research, added: “Like many people in society, Covid-19 had a profound effect on the agricultural community, but one of the biggest impacts was to widen the already existing cracks between farmers and their support networks, and exacerbated the poor mental health that many farmers were already experiencing.Â

“Covid itself was just the tip of the iceberg, with the biggest change to agriculture as a result of Brexit beginning in January 2021. Against the backdrop of huge regulatory change, the first wave of the global pandemic was especially hard on farmers with the driest spring on record, the removal of formal and informal support networks and major shifts in patterns of consumption and demand.” Â

The project received £190k in funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and a full report will be published in spring 2022.Â