Over half of farmers are experiencing moderate to extremely severe depression, according to a survey conducted by researchers at University College Dublin (UCD).

The survey of over 250 farmers, spread across Ireland and raging in age from 21 to 78, also found that 23.4% were considered at risk for suicide.

The research was funded by the Health Service Executive (HSE) National Office for Suicide Prevention and led by Dr Tomás Russell, assistant professor in agricultural extension and innovation, and Ms Alison Stapleton, both at UCD.


Their analysis also found that almost 40% of farmer survey respondents were experiencing moderate to extremely severe anxiety and stress.

Farm holders reported higher suicidal ideation and higher distress than non-holders, suggesting farm holders are at greater risk for suicide.

Government policies designed to reduce climate change, outsiders not understanding farming and concern over the future of their farm were found to be factors which had the greatest impact on farmers’ stress levels.

The survey suggests that farm holders are at greater risk of suicide, say researchers at UCD. / Claire Nash

The UCD team said findings line up with their qualitative work, separate from the survey, where farmers mentioned feeling scapegoated for climate change, being misrepresented in the media and worrying about succession as reasons they would feel stressed.

Among participants, farm stress was associated with higher suicidal ideation and higher distress. This means that as farm stress increased, so too did thoughts about suicide and poor mental well-being.

Tied to the land

High farm attachment was also associated with poorer mental well-being. Farmers who reported identifying with their land and who made comments like “I feel that the farm is a part of me” had poorer emotional, psychological and social well-being.

This finding is complemented by the team’s qualitative work where farmers mentioned “the land has a hold on them” and how “land gets in the lad’s mind; he’s just going to snap at some stage”.


Dr Russell and Ms Stapleton said their research findings highlight the importance of mental health initiatives and suicide awareness for members of the farming community, in addition to a need for system-level changes and supports for farmers.

“We hope to use what we’ve learned over the past year to actually build effective mental health interventions for farmers and the farming community at large. Equally, it’s important to continue to lobby for changes in systems that are negatively impacting farmers.

“There is just so much work to be done in this area and if our project can move things forward and get Ireland closer to putting workable supports in place, that would be great,” they said.

For more details on the study, readers can email tomas.russell@ucd.ie or alison.stapleton@ucdconnect.ie.

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