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Mental Health Awareness Week – and coping in rural areas

  • by JW

Looking beyond the countryside idyll…

“Balancing farming and family on an organic dairy farm by the coast” [Holly Atkinson, South Devon farmer]



It’s been a rough time in particular for the farming community of late – and many farmers are struggling with their mental health:

Jürgen Donhauser is no stranger to the hardships of farming life. His son’s farm, located an hour east of Nuremberg, Germany, has been in the family for generations. But when he took a church pastoral role a few years ago, local farmers started to confide in him about the stress and financial uncertainty of their job. Their stories shocked him. Some needed alcohol to sleep — to drown out the thoughts of losing everything. “Then there are other stories like…’if it all comes to an end then I’ll hang myself from the next tree’,” says Donhauser. To be the one closing a farm that’s been in the family for 10, even 15, generations is a crushing load to bear, Donhauser explains. The pressure facing these farmers is “brutal.”

It’s an issue everywhere, particularly as farmers traditionally have just ‘got on with it’. But as one Canadian ‘farm girl’ puts it, I learned to push through pain watching my stoic dad on the farm. Now, I want to change:

The first farming story I wrote for the Western Producer in 2017 was on mental health and how farmers are starting to realize that this same “suck it up” attitude that I grew up with can be harmful. Putting those words down and explaining how farmers aren’t alone with their physical and mental stress made me wonder if it might have helped my father when he needed it the most — during times of drought, low commodity prices and the eventual shutdown of most small hog operations in the province. 

Fortunately, mental health in farming communities is being taken more seriously:

Amidst the toil and triumphs of farming, how much do we truly comprehend about the mental health challenges farmers face daily? A significant study, funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), sheds light on the issue. According to a recent press release, farm owners, managers, and workers endure disproportionately high rates of stress-related diseases and rank fourth in the U.S. for suicide rates, as reported by the National Rural Health Association.

This week in the UK it is Mental Health Awareness Week – and a dairy farmer captures her mental health struggles in bespoke drawings on the Farmers Guardian [see illustration]. It’s not easy, with Holly and Adam Atkinson balancing farming and family on an organic dairy farm by the coast in South Devon

Other young farmers are also sharing thoughts and practical help – with Clarkson’s Farm co-presenter Kaleb Cooper speaking out about the importance of a simple chat.


Others living in the countryside might also need a helping hand.

Late last year, the Environment/Food/Rural Affairs Committee said that the UK government has a ‘worrying degree of complacency’ on rural mental health.

And this week, the Rural Services Network looks at possible ways to enhance rural health access: focus on mental health during Awareness Week:

Rural residents often experience greater difficulties in accessing healthcare facilities due to longer travel distances and less frequent public transport services. This not only complicates emergency medical care but also the routine management of chronic conditions and mental health support. The aging population in rural areas, which is growing faster than in urban centres, further strains limited healthcare resources.

Meanwhile, here in the Sid Valley, there are fears that vital Devon mental health services face the axe and in particular, earlier this year, there was a funding appeal to to save Sidmouth’s youth mental health ‘lifeline’.