MPs say they're 'deeply concerned' about poor mental health in countryside

  • Watch as Tim Backshall visits people in Cumbria to discuss rural mental health.

A major report by MPs has highlighted the issue of mental health problems in rural areas of England, particularly among farmers and other agricultural workers. 

The MPs say they are "deeply concerned" about how factors, such as isolation, limited access to mental health services, poor public transport and a relative lack of digital connectivity have all contributed to poor mental health outcomes.

Cumbria is one of the most rural areas of the country and many people here say the pressures are getting worse.

West Cumbrian farmer, Kevin Holliday, whose land includes the remote area of Cold Fell near Sellafield says financial pressures caused by changes to support payments and an increase in costs are leading to a "perfect storm."

He said: "Our fertiliser bills have gone from £250 to £700. Our feed bills for the cows have gone from £200 to £400."

He says his electric and fuel costs have also risen and he has had to sell some of his cattle to pay the bills. All of this, as well as isolation and long hours, he says, can have an impact on people's mental health.

He said: "You wake up at night sometimes and you don't get back to sleep, you are grouchy with the family. I don't think I'm the only one and I think it's good to talk, it's good to get help."

The study says that relative poverty in rural areas can exacerbate poor mental wellbeing and rural workers, including farmers, face particular stresses including unpredictable weather and animal health crises as well as uncertain and changing government policies that can affect their incomes as well as their mental health.

Adam Day, the Managing Director of the farming Network, says: "At the minute a lot of farmers, particularly in places like rural Cumbria really are not sure of what the future will be, changes in policy, changes in support payments, different pressures on how we manage the landscape and there's so much uncertainty at the minute it's nearly impossible to plan a farm business in the future."

Julia Aglionby, Executive Director of the Foundation for Common Land, says she is hearing a lot of stories of mental health problems among those working in agriculture in Cumbria.

She said: "I think it's absolutely enormous. We know that generally men find it harder to talk about these things than women and farming is predominantly a male dominated business, it remains so,  You feel it reflects badly on you as an individual farmer even though this is a matter completely outside your control."

GP Dr. Tim Sanders, who works in the Eden Valley, gave evidence to the MPs to help build their picture of rural life.

He said: "I wanted to get across the message that whilst many people see the countryside as a place of sanctuary and leisure actually for people who live and work in rural areas because it's their place of work it carries all those workplace based stresses that most of us are using the countryside to escape from."

The Government says it is striving to make improvements in the countryside. A spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting our rural communities and ensuring businesses and people in remote areas have the same opportunities as those in inner cities.

"Improving mental health is fundamental to reaching these goals and we are committed to providing the public services that rural areas deserve. 

"Alongside the £2.3 billion extra a year being invested into the expansion and transformation of mental health services in England, we are also providing mental health and wellbeing support through the Future Farming Resilience Fund and working with charities, such as Yellow Wellies, to ensure farmers can access the support they need.”

The report contains many recommendations for improvements but farmers like Kevin Holliday remain uncertain about the future of their industry.  

He said: "I've brought my young family in here as partners and I looked at the job and wondered what I've done." 

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