Make the Moove was founded in the last couple of months of 2018 by John Keane and Jonathan Dwyer in their home Macra club, Devils Bit, in north Tipperary.
John Keane has since gone on to be elected Macra na Feirme president.
Talking about Make the Moove’s beginnings, John says: “At the time, there had been significant pressures in our area, particularly in the farming community, around mental health and other such things.
"We sort of identified that there was the need to do something. It initially started off with the ambition to do a ‘safe talk’ and provide a night of speaking about mental health and mental health awareness.”
Healthy Tipperary was also aware of the mental health challenges in the county and a meeting was set up with the Make the Moove founders, Healthy Ireland and Healthy Tipperary.
Things got moving, when in the spring of 2019, Make the Moove received funding from Healthy Ireland and an Phobail.
“We rolled out five meetings where farmers and rural people could come and talk about their own stresses in life,” says John. “Also, what solutions they found would be helpful for them. So a community-led healthcare approach.
“Over the course of those five meetings, about 500 rural people came and talked about mental health stresses and solutions they thought would help.”
A report was then compiled on the back of those five meetings.
The movement continues
Make the Moove received more funding and used this to put together mental health toolkits.
John explains: “In those toolkits we sent out, there was pieces of information on our own programme, Make the Moove, there was personal stories of the people that spoke at our individual events and the battles that they would have gone through."
Make the Moove has delivered 5,000 such toolkits to farmers in Co Tipperary to date.
As well as for the toolkits, the funding was also used in developing a champion training course for farmers.
“[This] would provide them with information on minding their own mental health, but also give them the skillset to go and talk to other farmers, whether that be at large-scale events, at open days, at knowledge transfer (KT) events or whether it would be on a one-to-one basis when they felt that somebody was under pressure,” says John.
After the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to that training programme, 20 volunteers between the ages of 24 and 70 are set to receive their mental health champion training by the middle of November.
Learning from counterparts
Make the Moove is obtaining lots of information from countries such as New Zealand, Northern Ireland and Canada, which have set up rural support services.
Taking New Zealand as an example, John explains: “They have a crisis support helpline, which deals with people who are in crisis situations and to help them, specifically for rural people and for farmers.”
This support helpline serves as a central point farmers can call, from which they are then signposted out to other arms of the organisation specific to the problem, be that isolation, financial matters or inter-personal relationship issues.
“It’s a whole-country approach and it is pretty much covering all of the issues that come up within rural people and within farming and it’s all covered under the one umbrella,” says John.
“Our ambition is that a similar type network would be set up here over the next number of years and it’s really about providing the evidence-based support that we’re seeing and also to receive funding to allow us to do that and allow us to grow.”
He emphasises that if a national support network is to be set up in Ireland, “rural empathy and the rural understanding of problems is something which has to be at the core of it”.
Because day-to-day issues farmers are faced with are so specific to them, “they need to feel that somebody on the other end of the phone or somebody they’re dealing face-to-face with, is understanding of [these problems]”.
By talking to people who have approached him and the report that was compiled from the original five meetings, John has been able to identify certain issues surrounding metal health in rural Ireland.
“I think that there still is a stigma out there around mental health and people’s fears around it or that they’ll be put into a certain box if they’re admitting to suffering from anxiety or depression or stress or whatever it is.
“I think from a rural point of view, we all have an onus to talk about mental health, because the longest relationship you’ll have in your life is with yourself, so if you don’t get along with yourself, that’s a bad place to start from.”
From our side of things, we would see it as being willing to open up and share something
John says that the conversation around mental health “tends to be a very taboo subject and it can be sometimes seen as a point of weakness, whereas from our side of things, we would see it as being willing to open up and share something”.
“That takes a really strong person to do and it takes someone who has fantastic courage. Because showing that you’re weak takes a lot more courage than to just sit back and say nothing.”
Make the Moove has found that negative connotations surrounding the farming industry is among the top three causes of stress and anxiety for the age cohort of 17- to 50-year-olds.
“That’s a role that myself and all the other farm organisations have to do, as well as champions within the public arena, to ensure that false information is not out there.
"It’s also something we must do as farmers to be proud and boisterous in terms of what we are as people in our own sector, but also on a global stage; how good we are at what we do and not to shy away from that.”
A piece of advice
With isolation and loneliness being at the top of the causes for stress, especially for older generations, John advises people to be aware of people in the community who might be “a bit reserved, who don’t necessarily engage a huge amount with the community in general”.
“They do obviously still travel to the shops and travel to mass and do all the other things.
"You can be amazed by the 10 minutes you take to talk to them at the mart, when you’re picking up milk in the local shop, wherever it might be, the impact that can have on their outlook for the whole week.”
For those people who do feel under pressure, John advises them to: “Reach out to someone who is close to you, who you care about, someone who’s a friend to you, a neighbour, a family member.
“If there’s someone that they’re not comfortable to talk with, well then there’s services out there, whether that be ourselves to touch base with, whether that be the likes of Pieta House, Samaritans and there’s loads of community-led initiatives right around the country as well.”
He urges those who are approached by people in need to provide “a listening ear and a helping hand, because that first step is the most difficult and it’s important that we get that right and that we listen to people”.
“Hopefully, in years to come, if we’re successful in Make the Moove, we’ll have our own national support network that people can reach out to,” concludes John.
Until then, it is important that we continue taking those small steps that get us closer to reaching good mental wellbeing.