The Farming Community Network (FCN) charity has joined forces with the Campaign for Awareness of Mental Illness Among Debtors (CAMIAD) to help provide 'local lifelines' for farmers at risk of suicide and self-harm after winter flooding led to many facing overwhelming debt.
Fears of an increase in the number of suicides amongst UK farmers in the wake of spiralling debt caused by the effects of the largest levels of rainfull in more than 100 year, have triggered the joint nationwide initiative to help identify those at greatest risk.
FCN chief executive Charles Smith said: "There is seldom a month goes by that one of our volunteers is not called to help a farmer who has contemplated suicide because of debt or to help the bereaved family of a farmer who has died by suicide.
"Farmers will do anything to protect their livestock and protect farms that have been passed down from generation to generation and this can add enormous pressure to what, even in normal circumstances, is an acutely stressful business. Sadly, often farmers in debt and distress do not call us for help until the bailiff is walking down their drive."
Debts can rack up quickly
The organisations plan to draw up a list of accountants, solicitors, insolvency practitioners and other professionals serving rural communities who have been specially trained to recognise if farmers with serious debt have underlying mental health issues and could be at breaking point.
Research shows that farmers are in high risk group of dying by suicide and in the financial aftermath of the flooding, Smith believes those risks could be heightened.
"Farmers will tend to do anything to ensure that their animals are fed and looked after and in emergencies debts can rack up very quickly.”
"There are also especially acute problems among upland farmers who frequently have to contend with the worst weather. There are many such farmers who, in fact, are still recovering from the effects of the severe snow of the previous winter," Smith added.
'Lives can be saved'
Currently, the Network’s team of 350 volunteers nationwide is dealing with crises at several hundred farms seriously affected by flooding, especially on the Somerset Levels.
More than half of those supported by the FCN have financial problems and mental health issues of varying degrees. CAMIAD co-founder Ian Williamson believes this could increase further as farmers face the realisation of huge debts coupled with concerns that similar problems could affect their livelihood next year.
"These problems are compounded by the fact that generally they are a very private and proud section of the community who tend not to speak openly about their problems or divulge them to others. Many can suffer from depression in a world that tends to be isolated from the rest of the community" he said.
“But if these issues are recognised and acted upon earlier, then lives can be saved. [Financial] professionals often have the skills to deal with the debt and general financial issues but are very unlikely to have the training to recognise if an individual is suffering any mental health issues or know how to signpost them on for counselling or treatment as appropriate even if such problems are identified.
To combat this issue, CAMIAD is running a series of one-day training courses alongside Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. These nationwide courses will target professionals dealing with debtors in rural areas and help them to be aware of underlying mental health issues including the risk of suicide.
For more information on courses near you visit www.camiad.co.uk.