Research investigates COVID-19 impact on UK farmer mental health

A man with his back to camera wearing a waxed jacket and flat tweed cap looking across a field

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the mental health and resilience of farmers and farm workers will be the focus of new research led by University of Reading.

The project is receiving £190,000 funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) rapid response to COVID-19.

It will be a joint effort between:

  • University of Reading
  • University of Exeter
  • The University of Sheffield.

Working with farmers and supporting organisations

They will work with farmers and the organisations that support them to:

  • understand how the spread of the coronavirus has affected agricultural workers and their resilience to mental ill health
  • examine the challenges that charities that help the farming sector have faced in providing support to agricultural workers
  • explore how the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and other bodies can better target support for farmers and rural communities in times of crisis.

Their findings will be used to formulate a policy paper for Defra that will allow them to consider how to support farmers and their communities in any future crises.

Research lead, Dr David Rose, Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at University of Reading, said:

We already know that farmers’ mental health and wellbeing is a major challenge. Working long hours in a stressful job and often in isolation, and four in five agricultural workers recognise that poor mental health is a major issue facing the sector.

The global pandemic has clearly had a major impact on mental health and wellbeing for many in society, and thanks to the funding from UKRI we can really unpick the extent of that impact for farmers and rural communities more widely.

A serious problem

Charities and other organisations have supported farmers and rural communities during the pandemic. The researchers will work with these organisations to understand the extent of that support and what barriers they face.

One such organisation is the Farm Safety Foundation. They recently conducted a survey that found over 80% of farmers under the age of 40 believe poor mental health is the biggest hidden problem that they and their peers face today.

The Farming Community Network is a national charity which supports farmers and farming families in England and Wales. In October 2020, it noted that nearly half the calls to its helpline in the preceding four months related to mental health due to stress caused by:

  • COVID-19
  • financial concerns
  • other issues.

By involving a wide range of civic organisations and charities, the researchers will build a picture of farmers’ support structures. This will enable them to consider how to support them in the future, which will in turn inform their policy recommendations.

Top image:  Credit: JohnFScott/GettyImages

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