Mental Health Awareness Week 2019

Abbey Tractor

I live in North Devon. As we like to say in the West Country, I’m a ‘Devonshire maid’! I have lived in the South West all my life and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

While there is a lot of conversation about mental health online and in the media, a lot of that focuses on young people struggling with social media, busy lifestyles, or not getting access to natural environments. I wanted to share my experiences of mental health and wellbeing in very rural environments.

I’m currently working full time for an agricultural contractor in the heart of North Devon, and I’m looking to follow a career in agriculture and am working towards being a farm manager. Like most of the other people around me, farming is a real passion and something I really enjoy.

However, from my experience, I think that in the case of young farmers or rural citizens the biggest issues for of mental health is stress and rural isolation. Across the country, it has been shown that 1 in 10 young people will face a mental health problem in a year. In rural areas like Devon this can be more difficult, as there there are limited facilities and opportunities for young people to get active with friends.

While farm work can be great fun and very rewarding – I’m thinking of spending Spring with hundreds of extremely cute newborn lambs – it can also be hard, long and lonely work.

The average 18-year-old who owns a family farm will work nine hours a day, while in summer time, silage season, this can double to 18 hours. 80% of that time could be spent, for example, in a tractor cab on your own.

In comparison to the teamwork and fun of lambing season, the summer’s silage season can be extremely tough. There is a huge amount of pressure to get the work done on time, even if this involves working through the night. With its strict dates and times, the time is bound to be stressful. The tiredness can really get to you, especially in the cases of dairy farmers who wake up at four in the morning.

While some people see long working hours as an office-based problem, associated with late-night emails, during silage time you can leave on a Monday night and not come back until Wednesday morning, and you may not have spoken to another person this whole time.

In these times, if you’re not in a good place or are struggling with your mental health, the tractor can feel like a metaphor for your own head, as you’re surrounded by windows out into the world, but you can only focus on what’s going on inside the cab. This, over time, can become isolating and lonely, impacting your mental health.

Due to my keen interest in farming, I am a member of Blackmoor Gate Young Farmers Club. If you’re not familiar with Young Farmers Clubs, these clubs are set up in rural towns or villages for young members of the agricultural community, aged between 13-27. All clubs are part of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) of 624 clubs. The clubs provide endless opportunities for its members, with training courses ranging from tractor driving to mental health courses.

Last October, I went on a one evening mental health training course run by the Young Farmers Federation and Rural + (Rural Plus), which aimed to train club members to be advocates for the Rural + campaign, tackling rural isolation and mental health in young people.

The course consisted of true stories about mental health issues from Young Farmers members, in the form of discussions as well as role play. I took part in a role play with Braunton club’s chair, Sam. We both held a conversation based on a script of questions. Sam’s questions were very basic: ‘How are you?’, whilst mine were more detailed: ‘How have you been feeling lately, and why?’.

The idea of this exercise was to show how it is worth spending more time to ask questions and talk, as this can be healthier, as you can express your feelings rather than bottle them up.

On a personal level, my advice would be to take care of your own mental health, and if you can, to take a few days off during stressful times to rest and to interact with the community. This, however, cannot be a permanent solution, as you obviously do have to go back to work in the end. That’s why I feel that, overall, I would like there to be more funding at a national level, to support local parish and town councils to create more social and community events. While NFYFC provide great support, there needs to be similar projects available for people over the age of 27.

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Abbey is 17 year old #iwill Ambassador from North Devon. You can read her Ambassador profile here. Abbey was nominated to be an ambassador by Head of Year at school. You can nominate or apply to be an #iwill Ambassador like Abbey here.

The NFYFC are an #iwill partner, you can read their pledge here. They are also taking part in #iwill4nature 2019, working with Woodland Trust on #ProtectYourFuture, a mass tree-planting campaign.

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