Since the weather turned last July, conditions have been hard on farmers’ livestock, crops and incomes, but even harder on farmers’ mental health.

Indeed, the general consensus among the farm organisations and people working in the wider agriculture sector is that the mood among farmers is on the floor.

“The fight is gone out of them,” one man involved in the industry maintained.

“They’re really down. You’d be happier if they were f***ing you out of it. But that’s not in them at the moment.

“Now, all that could change if we got a couple of weeks of right good weather. But we’d need it,” he said.

The current concerns around farmer mental health have been triggered by the sustained period of poor weather. The unprecedented rainfall levels through the autumn, winter and spring have resulted in soaring on-farm costs and plummeting incomes.

The inability to get cows out on grass, or get crops sown were the primary stressors this spring.

And while the good 10 days in the middle of this month have helped matters, the wall of work in front of farmers has cranked up the pressure again.

“The tension on farms is very high. There’s always huge pressure at this time of year, but this spring was a real rat race trying to get crops into the ground,” said Wexford farmer John Murphy, who is the IFA’s vice grain chair.

While most farmers are just about coping with the stress and strain, even teak-tough operators are struggling at the moment, Murphy said.

“There’s always pressure; that comes with farming.

“But when lads can’t get crops into the ground, and they don’t even know if it’s worth putting the crops in the ground, then it’s hard to stay positive and motivated,” he explained.

“Lads are on a knife edge; the least little thing could tip them over the edge. They’re working such long hours they hardly know what day it is,” Murphy maintained.


It’s a similar story in the dairy industry. “Like all sections of society, mental health is a big concern in the agriculture sector and based on contact with ICMSA officers, the last year has been particularly difficult with many farmers under extreme pressure,” said ICMSA president Denis Drennan.

Drennan urged farmers who are struggling to reach out for help.

“We would encourage any farmer who feels under pressure to reach for help, people will help,” he maintained.

“The key issue here is that every problem has a solution, that supports are available. Talk to people and understand that you are not alone.

“There are people there to help and who want to help,” Drennan said.

Farm representatives are careful not to overstate or exaggerate the seriousness of the current situation, and they are still hopeful that better weather and a shift in commodity prices could transform matters.

However, the recent rains have dampened this optimism and accentuated fears that some farmers could buckle or even break under the intense strain that has followed in the atrocious weather’s wake.

These worries are not confined to the farm organisations.

The suicide advocacy group See Change has expressed concern around farmer mental health, as has the Northern Irish charity Rural Support.

Fears relating to farmer mental health have also been voiced by local GPs, the HSE and academics working specifically in this area.


The statistics around rural mental health lend credence to the nervousness in the industry.

A HSE-funded study from 2021 which was undertaken by the UCD Agri Mental Health Group – an interdisciplinary body involving UCD’s schools of agricultural science and psychology – found that more than half of the farmers surveyed showed signs of depression, while close to a quarter were classed as “at risk of suicide”.

While farmers make up less than 2.5% of the State’s population, they accounted for around 6% of the total number of recorded suicides between 2014 and 2019

Unfortunately, these indicators are also reflected in the high numbers of farmer suicides. In total, 148 Irish farmers died by suicide between 2014 and 2019 – surpassing deaths by farms accidents during the same period.

Farmers also accounted for a disproportionately high share of overall suicides.

While farmers make up less than 2.5% of the State’s population, they accounted for around 6% of the total number of recorded suicides between 2014 and 2019.

For Dr Tomás Russell from the School of Agriculture and Food Science at UCD, the study’s findings and suicide figures confirms the importance of looking at contributing factors such as the weather as a trigger for farmer mental health problems.

A founder member of the UCD Agri Mental Health Group, Russell pointed out that studies carried out internationally and by the Agri Mental Health Group identified a number of factors, which feed into heightened levels of depression and anxiety among farmers.

These include financial worries, rural isolation, Government policies, farm succession and how farmers perceive their portrayal by the media.

While a lift in the weather may sort the problems of the ‘here and now’, a few days sunshine will not be sufficient to address farmers’ more deep-seated and ingrained mental health issues.

That will require a planned approach, Russell claimed.

“Farming is an excellent way of life; we need to ensure that we protect that by looking after farmers’ mental health,” Russell said.

Targeted programme needed

The ICMSA has called for a targeted mental health programme for farmers.

“A specific programme for addressing mental health in agriculture should be put in place, building on the good work being done by many organisations throughout the country,” said ICMSA president Denis Drennan.

“As a sector, I think we need to recognise the pressures on farmers coming from the marketplace and from regulators.

“Policymakers and society cannot continue to load pressures on farmers, it has a consequence that cannot continue to be ignored,” Drennan added.

“At Government level, it is also clear that resources for mental health services need to be expanded both for children and adults,” he said.

Succession problems adding to on-farm anxiety

The absence of a recognised successor is emerging as a key stressor among farmers, research studies have identified.

Dr Tomás Russell of the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science said studies undertaken in Ireland and elsewhere were increasingly identifying succession as a major contributor to heightened stress levels on farms.

Recent research in Britain found that more young farmers were opting to travel or work outside of farming before coming home to farm, Russell explained.

“The trend seems to be starting to happen in Ireland,” he said. “This causes stress for the farmers and concern over the future of the farm,” Russell explained.

Farmer mental health is the primary focus for an innovative interdisciplinary group based in UCD.

The Agri Mental Health Group is headed up by Dr Russell, Professor Louise McHugh and Dr Alison Stapleton from the School of Psychology, and includes Dr Deirdre O’Connor and Paul Nangle from the School of Agriculture.

The past year has been particularly difficult for farmers, with weather, feed and falling incomes adding to anxiety levels.

In examining the root causes of mental health issues on farms, the perceived scapegoating of agriculture regarding climate change, as well as uncertainty about the future, were identified as significant factors which impacted farmers.

The study was funded by the HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP).

Data from the NOSP project also indicated that emotional avoidance among farmers was a major issue.

“We found high levels of emotional avoidance in the Irish farming community was a risk factor for mental health problems and suicide risk,” explained McHugh.

“Farmers often try to suppress emotions, avoid expressing emotions, or avoid seeking help due to stigma or cultural norms, which can lead to increased mental health issues such as anxiety and depression,” she added.

As well as researching the prevalence and causes of mental health in the agriculture sector, the UCD group also aims to develop strategies which farmers can employ to counter feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

“It is important to teach farmers skills for coping effectively with life’s inevitable challenges while getting the most out of every day,” Dr Alison Stapleton pointed out.

Two years ago, Stapleton, Russell and McHugh were involved in a study which found that more than half the 250 farmers surveyed experienced moderate to severe depression, while more than 23% were considered at risk of suicide.

That survey is currently being replicated and is looking at a bigger and more representative farmer sample.

McHugh, Dr Nigel Vahey from Technological University Dublin and Russell are also involved in a project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, which aims to improve communications between farmers and policymakers on climate change.

In addition, the group is currently developing a pilot mental health support programme in collaboration with South East Technological University, which will enable service providers to farmers – such as vets – to provide “mental health first aid tailored to the agricultural sector”.

In the long term, the group hopes to influence policy changes to improve mental health services and support for farmers.

Battling with the stigma around rural mental health

Suicide of a loved one is “something you never get over”, said Wexford farmer Patrick Hipwell.

“The pain never eases, you learn to live with it, but you never get over it,” he added.

You never really know why; you never have an answer

It is just 20 years since Patrick’s brother Henry took his own life.

He was working the home farm at the time at Ballindaggan, Enniscorthy – at the foot of Mount Leinster.

Patrick is still none the wiser about why Henry, who was 35 at the time, took his own life.

“You never really know why; you never have an answer.”

Patrick’s response to the pain of his family’s loss has been to throw himself into the mental health awareness charity, See Change.

See Change seeks to end the stigma around mental health by working with people who have ‘lived experience’ of such difficulties.

The organisation runs the Green Ribbon Day each year to raise awareness regarding mental health stigma.

Hipwell took his own angle on the green ribbon concept by promoting the use of green bale wrap to highlight mental health difficulties among farmers.

“It’s all about awareness,” Hipwell said.

“And there is the added bonus that the birds don’t attack the green bales,” he added with a chuckle.

Hipwell is also active with the farmer group Awareness Head To Toe, which promotes better mental and physical health.

“We got more calls this year that ever before,” he said.

“Generally, the calls are from people worried about finance and the weather,” Hipwell explained.

Another charity that has seen a surge in calls relating to farming this year is Rural Support, which is based in Northern Ireland.

Of those who called Rural Support’s helpline on behalf of someone else, 80% were worried about the mental health of the person.

Stress can lead to burnout or depression in farmers

Stress can contribute to burnout and depression if it is not addressed and farmers should not leave it too late to seek help.

“Sources of stress or low mood usually come from things that are outside of our control,” explained Waterford GP Derek Casey.

“The unpredictable weather and financial worries certainly come under that category when it comes to farming. I’ve seen these factors cause stress, burnout and in some cases depression,” the Cappoquin-based doctor said.

But how do farmers know that they are suffering severe stress or at risk of depression?

“Key signs that you might be suffering an episode of low mood would be a lack of motivation, a lack of interest in activities that you previously would have enjoyed, or a sense of hopelessness,” explained Casey.

“Other features would be reduced ability to function at home or in work, poor sleep quality or, at the extreme end, thoughts of self-harm,” he added.

“Farmers are what I would call late presenters, which is why I always say it’s crucial to do the ‘full NCT’ when they come into the surgery,” Casey said.

“They are very resilient – a much-admired quality. But sometimes this resilience leads to a delay in seeking help when it is needed. Usually, it is a loved one who pushes a farmer to come in,” he maintained.

“It’s important to know there is help out there, but you have to ask for it,” Casey pointed out.

“My advice is not to leave it too late, whether that be talking to family, a friend or neighbour. Or making an appointment with your own GP,” he said.


  • Pieta House: 1800 247 247 or text help to 51444.
  • Samaritans: call 116 123.
  • Make the Moove: 086-084 0442 or email makethe
  • .

  • Rural Support: 0800 138 1678.