Challenges are part of life. Nothing stays the same, and people are reluctant to change unless it is their own decision to do so. The farming sector has had to face many challenges down through the years.
Climate change is probably the most difficult one to come to terms with in recent times. The EU Green Deal includes a plan to prevent further biodiversity decline, improve water quality, and look at ways to lower the use of pesticides and fertiliser on the farm. This all looks good on paper, but the task of implementing it and the pressure it places on farmers can sometimes be overlooked.
Of course, that is far from the only challenge. Since war broke out between Russia and the Ukraine, the cost of living has sky rocketed, with electricity and diesel and other fuels being hardest hit.
Another problem facing many farmers is the increased paper workload and finding the time to process it. Technology is seeping in to all walks of life now and many farmers can be slow to embrace it due to their financial situation or perhaps a fear of not being able to use it properly.
On top of this, farming is 24/7. Having a nine to five schedule is not feasible. As they try to make a living from the farm, they are also more than likely trying to support a family. It can be so hard to balance the books. Financial stress can lead to stress in family relationships and sometimes a complete breakdown if the ability to effectively communicate is not there.
Is it any surprise then, that people who work the land and try to earn a living sometimes question what the hell it is all about or where is it going to end? Is it any wonder that they can get to a stage where they just feel unable to cope anymore?
A silent pandemic
Earlier this year, Maria Walsh MEP held an event on mental health in farming and called for the introduction of an EU-wide rural mental health strategy to combat what she has called the “silent pandemic” of suicide ideation among farmers. She maintains that the scale of the mental health challenge is as significant as that faced with farm safety, but as an issue has yet to receive the same level of attention.
Dr Tomás Russell from UCD’s School of Agriculture and Professor Louise McHugh of UCD’s School of Psychology spoke at the event. It was stated that almost a quarter of Irish farmers are “at risk of suicide” and had “suicidal thoughts or urges to take their own lives” at some time two weeks prior to being surveyed.
This truly highlights the level of despair and hopelessness that many in the farming sector are experiencing at the moment. However, it is important to know that all is not lost.
The farming sector is generally male. Men have been reared in many cases not to show weakness. They have been told to “man up” and take it on the chin. They have internalised many self-limiting beliefs that have rendered many unable to seek help and support during difficult times.
However, the need to cry, to feel unsure, to feel scared and out of one’s depth is not gender based. We are all human, we are all emotional beings. Trying to suppress those emotions can eventually lead to dis-ease including deep dark depression, dis-harmony and suicide ideation.
The time has well and truly come to dispel these myths and learn to live a life where each person can be true to themselves and feel safe in reaching out to others for help and support.
It is really important to remember that no matter how frightening a thought we may experience, it is still only a thought, and we have the power to change each one. Once we accept a thought, it leads to feelings, which in turn lead to actions and then we have a result.
Negative thoughts = Negative results.
Positive thoughts=Positive results.
Most people are familiar with the saying from John Milton about how our mind can make a heaven out of hell, or a hell out of heaven. How right he was. It is also fair to say that we seem to find it easier to allow the negative thoughts to flow as opposed to focusing only on the positives. But we have the power to change our thoughts and change our reality.
Think of your mind as a garden. The flowers are the positive thoughts. The weeds are the negatives. If the gardener were to allow the weeds to grow wild, there would be very few flowers. But were the weeds plucked out every day, the flowers would bloom and a beautiful garden created.
Talking is the first step
If you are struggling, talking to somebody you can trust is the first step.
I believe it would really help the farming community if helpline numbers were printed on all farm produce packaging. It is also my opinion that self-adhesive labels with helpline numbers be placed on all farm machinery, especially tractors. Sometimes, in the silence of the fields, where melancholy can take over, having access to these numbers can make all the difference. The more they are strategically placed on agri sector products, the more normal it will become to have them there.
Thankfully mental health issues are being discussed and recognized in a greater capacity now. Unfortunately, the stigma is still rampant, and the self-limiting beliefs around seeking mental health support are still doing the rounds. It is normal to feel worried, uncertain, and fearful or perhaps experience a lack confidence as one goes through life. Know that all of these feelings come from the constant string of negative thoughts we allow to filter into our emotional/subconscious mind. When you experience a negative thought, do not try to block it; equally, do not give it the attention it craves. Let it go and focus on some aspect of your life that you are grateful for.
Attitude of gratitude
Focusing on gratitude can truly help and is a great place to start. Focus on what you have to be thankful for on this autumn day. People think money is the most important thing. It certainly plays a very important role in our lives, but the most valuable commodity we have is our breath. An attitude of gratitude can help to shift that dark cloud and clear the mind. With a clear mind, we can focus on solutions rather than the problems.
Self-care is necessary in order to live a happy and healthy life. Allow yourself to indulge in a hobby. For a healthy, happy and balanced life, it is necessary to care for all aspects of our psyche. Consider treating yourself now and again to complementary therapies such as reflexology, massage etc.
If you are feeling depressed or experiencing suicide ideation, please reach out today. You are never alone. If you are not comfortable initially with the idea of counselling, pick up the phone and ring a helpline number. So many wonderful people await your call. Take your power back from that inner critic that seeks to destroy your precious life.
This is an example of what a safety plan may look like. It is a series of questions that you answer truthfully and then keep in a place where you can easily access it should you need to refer to it.
Who can I call?
“I choose to go straight to the A&E department should my thoughts and feelings become suicidal and I fear harming myself. If I am unable to get there immediately, I will ring my GP or out of hours medical services or 999 if necessary.”
Examples of answers
Remove any medications in the house, ask a trusted friend to hold on to them or hand them in to my local chemist shop. Dispose of dangerous objects such as blades, sharp knives. Keep my safety plan where it is easy to find.
Fear, procrastination, not able to see a bright future, catastrophizing situations.
I called my best friend and we went for a walk and I found it easy to talk to her. I felt safe. I kept a diary and found it really helped to write everything down. Reading self-help books made me feel more in control again. I wrote a “gratitude list”. Decided to ring GP if feelings did not improve.
I can listen to a guided meditation that helps me focus on my breathing. Writing down a list of positive affirmations always helps. Should these not be of any help, I can phone the Samaritans or the emergency services or my friend X, depending on how desperate I am feeling.
Any negative thoughts that intrude, I can focus on writing down the opposite ones. “This too shall pass” is a very comforting affirmation.
I would encourage them to talk, and I would listen to hear rather than to reply. I would ask them if there was anything in particular I could do to help them. I would encourage them. I would ring for help if they were getting worse.
My spouse, my children, my parents. I would not wish to put them through the pain of losing a loved one to suicide. (This can sometimes be the game changer when a person is feeling suicidal.)
Supporting a loved one
For those trying to help and support a loved one experiencing suicide ideation, know that simply being fully present and willing to listen without feeling the need to offer advice is a great place to start. It is not your job to “fix it”. Ask them what can you do to help? Keep it simple.
Who to contact
If you are struggling, the first port of call ideally needs to be your GP. Reach out to him/her and let them know how you are feeling. Arrange an appointment. If you do not feel well enough to drive there yourself, ask a friend or family member to take you. Alternatively, you can request an urgent house call. Taking that first step is vital for your health and recovery.
There are many supports available when we are struggling with our mental health. A safety plan (below) can also save a person’s life.
Claire Lyons Forde is an accredited counsellor in practice in Co Kerry, and offers therapy services in person as well as online and over the phone. For further information, call 087-939-9818.