MEP Maria Walsh has 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.

Walsh 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.

“Farm safety is a major issue in rural Ireland. It is one that we hear about in the media and through safety campaigns, and rightly so,” the MEP said.

“The difficulty, however, is that mental health is just as much of a problem in our farming community today, and sadly, we are still not talking about it.”

Walsh stated that mental health issues remain a taboo topic, especially in rural communities. “We need to break down the barriers and address the taboo. Our farming community, particularly in rural Ireland, is finding it really tough and we are continuing to ignore the difficulties,” she added.

The event heard that mental health difficulties have become a silent pandemic across Ireland in recent years, and an EU-wide mental health strategy is critical to address this.

“We need to listen to farmers and involve the farming community in the discussion. We also must ensure that research is the backbone of any policy or support on farmer mental health, and that the voice of the farming community is heard.”

Stark findings

Dr Tomas Russell from UCD’s School of Agriculture and Professor Louise McHugh of UCD’s School of Psychology spoke to an event organised by the MEP in Brussels as part of EU mental health week.

It was heard that research suggests 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 in the two weeks prior to being surveyed.

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