It started with feedback from agricultural advisors. When visiting farms, they were experiencing some disclosures from farmers about mental health issues – anxiety, depression related to financial worry, bureaucracy or relationships problems, for example. The advisors often felt unqualified to respond.
Had they said the right thing? Where should they have suggested that farmers seek help? Because of this concern, a special training course – On Feirm Ground – was developed by concerned agricultural and men’s health organisations..
It is funded by the HSE and the Departments of Health and of Agriculture and over 200 advisers have already benefitted from the training. The plan is that all agricultural advisers – private consultants as well as those employed by Teagasc - will have been offered the training by the end of 2022.
Seán Cooke, CEO of the charity, the Men’s Development Network, has led the development of this training programme via the Network’s Engage training wing. The On Feirm Ground training is Unit 8 of a suite of training programmes they provide related to men’s health.
Many other stakeholders were involved in developing the On Feirm Ground training and “train the trainer” courses including Teagasc, the Agricultural Consultants Association, Mental Health Ireland, the Irish Heart Foundation and Carlow IT.
“The trigger was a couple of advisers talking to Engage partners at an event saying, ‘we really need to do something around helping advisers,’” Seán says.
“Teagasc was getting feedback saying they were experiencing a lot of disclosures from farmers on site about their mental health and they were unsure about how to deal with it.”
A report into farming health issues by IT Carlow had already shown that isolation, the decline of rural communities, issues relating to succession and inheritance and increasing pressures to scale up could lead to mental health issues for farmers.
That was along with changing farming roles, increasing paperwork demands, seasonal workloads, financial stress and the pressures associated with being self-employed.
a way in which to signpost a farmer in the direction of appropriate help
Seán Cooke points out that On Feirm Ground is not about advisers coming onto a farm and doing therapeutic work, however.
“It’s not to make advisers the new Sigmund Freuds of farming. It’s about knowing that they have a way in which to signpost a farmer in the direction of appropriate help. Advisers were unsure about how to respond to the trauma that farmers were sometimes relating.
They were coming home thinking, ‘Jesus, did I even say the right thing there?’ They may have noticed ‘red flags’ on the farm, for example, the state of the yard, and known that something wasn’t right.
Things like that are real indicators of where people might be at [mental health wise]. Often farmers know their advisers well and may disclose how they are feeling as a result.
It is very much about giving agricultural advisers the confidence in themselves to be able to say, ‘I have a number of resources here available to me that I can give to a farmer, that I might give to a wife or partner or mother or whoever it may be that they can then reflect on themselves’.
At least advisers know now, walking out the yard gate, that whatever information is given is correct and they can feel confident that if the farmer does seek support, it’ll be the right support because he’s been given the right information.”
Often farmers believe that their problems are specific to farming, but there are stresses experienced by the general population, Seán believes.
“The reality is that the causes of stress and strain and emotional turmoil are all very much the same. There is the usual stuff from money to bureaucracy to addiction to the issue of relationships going south. They are very much what’s happening in wider society too.”
The On Feirm Ground training programme was evidence based and is evaluated on an ongoing basis. The case was built for what training was needed first via research and then 24 advisers were invited to participate in the Train the Trainers programme.
“They were given four days’ specific training to be able to deliver the one day training programme to other agricultural advisers. They delivered the one day training in pairs and were mentored by senior trainers within the Engage programme. The goal was that those who did the training would be empathetic towards farmers without taking on the farmers’ worries themselves.”
The first tranche of training was rolled out in October 2021 and it is hoped that by the end of 2022, all the 800 agricultural advisors in Ireland will have been equipped with the knowledge and skills to engage and signpost farmers on health issues.
“They will also be able to bring a health promotion focus into farming extension activities like farm discussion groups,” he adds.
Francis Bligh is a national health and safety specialist with Teagasc and now also delivers the On Feirm Ground training. He has found the experience and knowledge he has gained in the course of becoming a trainer very beneficial.
“I found that it made me more aware and open,” he says. “There is a large number of issues affecting farmers and maybe until you sit down and think about them you don’t really fully understand them. I found the training very good to explore those in detail with a group of other people who were going to become On Feirm Ground trainers.”
Advisors are supporting farmers from an efficiency and production perspective with the advice and information they provide, he points out, but they also support farmers from an emotional perspective.
“Farmers respond to advisors, they trust their advice, they have strong, deep conversations with their advisors about their concerns and their thoughts and how they are going to approach different things that happen on the farm,” he says.
“Sometimes they speak of the pressures they are feeling with the type of farming they are trying to do and the issues that are popping up during the year and how they are managing those and how that’s affected them personally and their family.
“We can now tell farmers what supports are available and help them feel that they are being listened to and that there are options out there for them that can help if they do need help.”
It’s not just mental health that can be focussed on, however.
“We also spend a long time talking about physical health - diet and exercise and minding your back and so on. The focus isn’t always on crisis.”
The boundaries of the role were discussed at planning level also.
“The advisor is really a sign poster or a connector. They are not a GP, counsellor and are not going to provide the services of Aware or Mental Health Ireland or the Samaritans. We are just a conduit to make farmers aware of these services and encourage farmers to use them and interact with them. The Departments of Agriculture and of Health are funding the training because they see advisors as people that farmers trust and that advisors have the ability to influence and that this influence can also be in the area of health.”
To learn more visit www.engagetraining.ie
Vitamin B12 deficiency or B9 (folate) anaemia happens when you have a shortage of the relevant vitamin. The body then produces abnormally large red blood cells that can’t function properly.
A deficiency in either of these vitamins can cause a wide range of problems, such as:
Pernicious anaemia: This (most common cause) is where your immune system attacks healthy cells in your stomach. This prevents your body from absorbing vitamin B12 from the food you eat.
A lack of B12 or folate in your diet can cause a deficiency. This is uncommon but can occur if you have a vegan diet, follow a fad diet or have a generally poor diet for a long time.
Certain medications can affect how much of these vitamins your body absorbs. These include anticonvulsants and proton pump inhibitors.
Most cases can be treated with injections or tablets to replace the missing vitamins. Vitamin B12 supplements are usually given by injection at first. After that you’ll either need B12 tablets between meals or regular injections. This depends on whether your deficiency is related to your diet. Treatments may be needed for the rest of our life.
In some cases, improving your diet can help treat the condition and prevent it from recurring. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, yeast extract and fortified foods. Sources of folate include green vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and peas.