“A 2015 study by the Irish Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy found the farming community the group least likely to talk to a friend about stress or depression with just 3% saying they had done so compared to the national average of 49%,” wrote British farmer counselor Aarun Naik in September this year.
“Just 7% of respondents from the farming community said they would speak to a doctor and only 5% said they would speak to a counsellor or psychotherapist about personal problems compared to a national average of 32% and 13% respectively.”
In 2015 Naik completed a year-long Nuffield Farming Scholarship Travel Award, sponsored by the John Oldacre Foundation, which enabled him to visit France, Belgium, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and the countries in the United Kingdom. The major purpose of his travels was to explore how other countries besides his native England addressed high levels of stress, suicide and poor mental health of people engaged in farming.
As Naik wrote, “Running through all these approaches was the importance of reducing stigma in order to normalise (Sic) the issue so that choosing to seek help becomes easier.” He wrote further that the “experience confirmed…that issues of stress and mental health are a global problem in farming. Enabling farmers to openly and unashamedly share their own personal experiences of mental health difficulty can be a hugely effective way of engaging fellow farmers on the topic and eroding stigma.”
Knowledge and experience concerning agriculture helps healthcare providers reduce uncertainty among the agricultural population they serve about requesting behavioral healthcare and other forms of healthcare service.
Naik, who completed an undergraduate degree in applied biology and a stint on the prairies of Canada with the Department of Agriculture, also completed three years of training to achieve a diploma in Transpersonal Counselling Psychology in 2013 so he could professionally counsel farmers in his native country.
He reached firm understanding about supporting the well-being of agricultural producers during his year-long experience. His perceptions help shape new conclusions that can benefit farmers and behavioral health planners in countries everywhere.
Naik said farming is “in the blood” of agricultural producers. Quoting a Journal of Agromedicine article I wrote, he said “humans have an innate drive to work the land and produce food for their families and communities; farmers take significant risks to satisfy that drive and if they are unsuccessful they develop a deep sense of failure. The same traits that motivate farmers to be successful are associated with depression and suicide if their farming objectives aren’t met.”
Naik went on to say “these aspects of farming culture are thought to exacerbate the stigma around mental health that admitting to struggling mentally and emotionally and having to ask for support is taken as evidence of personal failure. This also brings with it a fear of being judged by others as being somehow weak.”
Naik was describing aspects of the Agrarian Imperative, a construct I proposed.
The conclusions of his report are his though; they are the following:
- “Farming communities across the world are struggling with issues of stress and mental ill health and the pressures faced by farmers appear to be increasing.
Mental health in farming must be tackled both ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream.’ In addition to downstream approaches supporting people in immediate or emergency need, farm populations upstream also need to be targeted with preventative awareness-raising measures.
- Pre-emptive measures to support the mental and emotional health of affected communities can be front-loaded within industry responses to acute farming crisis such as adverse weather events or sudden disease outbreak.
- There are now well understood, science-based strategies and behaviours known to help develop mental and emotional resilience. Farmers embracing such measures are likely to be better placed to cope with the stresses and pressures of farming.
- Farmers speaking out publicly and openly sharing their own personal experiences of mental health difficulty can be a hugely effective way of engaging fellow farmers on the topic and eroding stigma.”
While I agree with the substance of Naik’s apt perceptions and conclusions, I recommend substituting the word “behavioral” in place of “mental.” Mental has preconceived negative connotations. For example, at least in the U.S. we never use the word behavioral as slang to describe unusual behaviors, but some observers might offensively describe a person exhibiting unusual behaviors as mental.
I also recommend avoiding the word “stigma.” Words that signify “avoiding” are preferable. Avoidance behavior or something similar are less “loaded” than stigma.
Behavior and behavioral are recognized as healthy positive activities of life itself. Our behaviors will keep us alive as our planet undergoes massive changes. Naik helped confirm that people involved in agriculture in the countries he visited, and probably everywhere, share commonalities in our drives to produce essentials for life and to avoid any sign of inadequacy to competitors, even when struggling, but this avoidance behavior must change.