Loneliness Awareness Week - farmers reminded to reach out and 'keep talking'

As part of our ongoing Health Series, we meet the rural groups working hard to combat isolation and loneliness in agriculture

clock • 6 min read
Loneliness Awareness Week - farmers urged to keep talking and reach out should they need help
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Loneliness Awareness Week - farmers urged to keep talking and reach out should they need help

In 2022, Welsh farmer Stephanie Powell launched Farming Facebook Fireside Chat because ‘not everyone has someone to talk to and that can be tough'.

Like many online communities, the group's 1,500-plus members are free to post comments and share their thoughts but each week there are also admin-led ‘informal chat nights' during which people can interact with each other to let off steam, ask for advice or simply pass the time of day talking about their dogs or the weather.

"Farming is a special job; it is a wonderful job but it can be a lonely job," says Stephanie. "We have a mixture of people who are members but farmers like to talk to farmers and within our group, everyone knows that people understand what they are going through - whether it is news about the business or life as a new mum. Farmers understand.

"One night we had a message from a lady who had just had a baby - her husband was harvesting and the baby would not stop crying. She said she was in tears and really struggling. She knew how hard her husband was working and did not want to bother him. Within seconds so many people had got in touch - we all told her to put the baby down and have a cup of tea. If the baby was crying anyway, you may as well put it down and sort yourself out," says Stephanie.

"Our members all encouraged her to ring her family or a friend and organise for someone to come over the next day so she could get some rest. She messaged later to say she had done exactly that and people were more than happy to help.

"As farmers or wives of farmers we have all been there. Some parenting groups would have been shocked she could not ask her husband , but we understand. Harvest is harvest."

Drivers of loneliness 

  • Long working hours - driven by the demands of farming and pressure to keep the business going
  • Lone-working - felt to have increased in recent years in line with farm labour changes driven by mechanisation
  • Lack of social opportunities – finding time away from the farm for leisure or socialising can be difficult
  • Geographical isolation - many farms are in rural locations with poor connectivity and transport links, providing further barriers to off-farm socialising. Young farming people can feel particularly isolated from their non-farming peers as a result of this*

Giving farmers the opportunity to connect and ‘talk' has been a key driver for the work of rural charities such as the RABI, the Farming Safety Foundation and the Farming Community Network who are all working hard to address the issues of loneliness and isolation as the industry battles to improve the mental wellbeing of its members.

"People are definitely more aware - but people are still isolated," says Alex Phillimore, head of communications and development at FCN. "The messaging around checking in on people, keeping track of when was the last time someone you saw or heard from someone is getting through and it is important that those working in the wider agriculture sector to really try and make this a priority."

Speaking to FCN, one farmer said: "I think it's the loneliness within the business. You are stood in the yard doing your work and you are on the tractor, all the management decisions come to me. No-one else… So everything that goes right is my achievement and everything that goes wrong is my problem… I spend most of the day on my own, but I would not say it is the loneliness in itself that gets me down, it is probably the loneliness within the context of the business. The pressure comes to me on my own and I have to deal with everything on my own."

In a bid to ‘keep people talking', Alex says FCN has launched a number of activities including its Yarn in a Barn project, which was designed to bring farmers together in a relaxed setting to combat loneliness and social isolation among farming communities.

One attendee said: "I think events like these are important for people in agriculture as they provide a reason/an opportunity to go out and socialise. Especially on dark winter nights, it is so easy to stay at home, and depending on farm size, some people may not see anyone during the day either so it can get quite lonely. The dark winter months can be depressing for everyone, but it is harder when you do not share them with anyone!"

Ways to address loneliness

  • Talk to someone – letting a family member or close friend know you are feeling lonely may encourage them to help you.
  • Build your social circle - planning to do activities with friends will allow you to look forward to things, call someone instead of sending a text or emailing them, join social groups in your local community/village. 
  • Read – reading books or listening to audiobooks can be a good way to help reduce social isolation, likewise joining a book club may help reduce feelings of physical separation.
  • Volunteering and helping others in your local community/area may will help reduce loneliness and spur interactions. **

"We have now run about 20 of those events and sometimes there are about 100 people there - so it is clear people do want to get together. We need to get farmers off the farm, just for a little while, so they can relax and have people to talk to."

There are Farmwell events planned throughout the year, and you can find out about them here.

Similarly, members of Stephanie's group have now stepped out from behind their screens to take part in some ‘meet-ups' which usually consist of coffee or a pub lunch.

"It is lovely to get together but some people are still unsure," reveals Stephanie. "People have to let themselves be helped and I think that is what a lot of farmers struggle with. They are lonely and they do feel isolated but they are very reluctant to make that first step.

"It can be a vicious circle," she adds. "Some people complain they would have to drive more than 30 minutes to one of the meet ups - but also complain that no-one comes to see them or they do not have anywhere to go. So we really need to try and break the cycle of loneliness. But hopefully, if we can just keep talking, we can make progress."

Help is at hand - remember, there is always someone to talk to:

Farming Facebook Fireside Chat UK

Farmwell.org.uk

Farming Community Network

RABI

Yellow Wellies

Sources: *Farmwell; ** FCN

TILE SHEDS FARM - Morpeth, Northumberland

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