Prevention Tools

Mental Health Challenges and Stigma Reduction

Tool 1

Introduction

The World Health Organisation(WHO) has stated that “ mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders” and view it as being an.”an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health” The WHO Constitution states that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This implies  that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. It  is an integral and essential component of health.

The WHO defines mental health”Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Therefore mental health is determined by a range of socioeconomic, biological and environmental factors

This Section or the Module will focus on common mental health challenges such as  Depression, Stress and Anxiety and How To Deal with Stigma and Recovery

It’s important to promote a culture of openness and support around mental health in the farming community. Encouraging farmers to prioritise their mental health and well-being, to build social connections and networks are all crucial steps in addressing stress, anxiety and poor mental health outcomes among farmers.

Chapter 1: Depression

Depression  is a mental health challenge that  involves having a low mood or losing interest and enjoyment in your work, activities and other things that you normally enjoy . It can also bring about other changes to how you think, feel or behave.

It is important to note that the symptoms you  may experience can  vary.  Additionally ,how intense these feelings are, how long they last, and how much you are affected by  them in  your daily life can  vary.

With what is termed as mild depression  you might have low mood but nonetheless be in a position to still be able to carry on with your daily  farming life and work routine.The feeling may very well be that everything feels much harder, less worthwhile and difficult to do. It all feels like a struggleIt can be understandably easy for us farmers to feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious. The following section will explore with you how struggles in farming can undermine good mental health and how to address the misplaced stigma that surround mental health challenges.about these threats to our mental health…

If you are experiencing more  severe depression, you might find  your day to day life on the farm  or workplace  significantly  more difficult. 

Low mood  and  Depression

Anyone of us can  have  moments in times when our mood is low. We feel sad , or just pure  fed up.More often than not these feelings occur and  pass on in time. There is a reason behind such a low mood and when sorted life goes on.

However,  it can become depression if the feelings become so bad and overwhelming that these feelings  interfere with  your daily life and  if they last for several weeks or months.There are many signs and symptoms of depression, and everyone’s experience will vary. Key symptoms The more common  symptoms may include

How you might feel such as

  • down, upset or tearful
  • restless, agitated or irritable
  • guilty, worthless and down on yourself
  • isolated and unable to relate to other people
  • angry or frustrated over minor things
  • no self-confidence or self-esteem
  • hopeless and despairing
  • feeling tired all the time

How you might act:

  • Avoiding social events and activities you usually enjoy
  • Self-harming or suicidal behaviour
  • Difficulty speaking, thinking clearly or making decisions
  • Losing interest in sex
  • Difficulty remembering or concentrating on things
  • Using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual
  • Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • No appetite and losing weight, or eating more than usual and gaining weight
  • Physical aches and pains with no obvious physical cause

Chapter 2: Stress

There is a lot of literature written about Farming and Stress. This section will explore the relationship between stress and mental health. Farming is a work occupation. Most farmer’s place of work is usually set around the family home,which means they are never far removed from their work environment. In these circumstances it  difficult  for the farmer  to get away from the workload. Farming brings its own unique stressors that include  familiar  factors  for example necessary  long working hours,financial pressures, climate matters, compliance with Government  regulations.  At a personal level family relationships, daily social  isolation, also impact in a famer’s daily work routine. Additionally,there are  external events that they have little or  no control over from  inflationary matters, volatile climate patterns , natural disasters to international events, such as the war in Ukraine and its many impacts on commodities that farmers are dependent on such as oil and grain prices  animal feed and fertilizers.

What is Stress?

Stress can be defined as any form of change that causes physical emotional mental  strain Ity is the body’s response to anything that requires immediate attention or action. Being aware of the way you respond to stress can make a significant difference to your  mental health and wellbeing.

Essentially, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event.Stress is a natural and   response to challenging situations or life events, many of which have been identified in the aforementioned introduction are necessary. When stress  becomes overwhelming it will  affect a person’s  ability to cope. It can be overwhelming  and leave you  feeling  that you have little or no control over the  situation,  tired, exhausted  drained and in a low mood.Stress  can affect a person  both physically  and emotionally, and with varying intensities. 

Research has shown that it can  be positive as it makes  a person more alert  and motivates a person to perform better in certain situations. However, stress has only been found to be beneficial if it is short-lived. Excessive or prolonged stress can lead to illness such as heart disease and mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. It is also well known that many farm accidents are caused due to working under stressful situations.  

Chapter 3: Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health challenges around the world

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives. It  is normal to experience anxiety in everyday situations. A low level of anxiety   as with stress  can be a useful motivating force. However, persistent and excessive anxiety can be distressing and may point towards  more serious issues leading  for example to depression.

What is anxiety? The word ‘anxiety’ tends to be used to describe worry,  or when fear is nagging and persists over time. Anxiety is a type of fear usually associated with a perceived threat or something going wrong in the future, but it can also arise from something happening right now. Unlike fear itself, which is a response to an immediate danger, anxiety is an ongoing sense of worry, sometimes without a specific cause. Anxiety happens when you become overwhelmed by fear and want to avoid situations that might make you anxious. It can be hard to break this cycle, but there are lots of positive ways to cope so it doesn’t stop you from living a full life.For many, the feelings of anxiety will pass as quickly as they came, but for others they can be prolonged and develop into anxiety disorders.

Anxiety symptoms can last for a long time, or come and go. You might find you have difficulty with day-to-day parts of your life, including:

  • looking after yourself
  • holding down a job
  • forming or maintaining relationships
  • trying new things
  • simply enjoying your leisure time.

Anxiety can make farming  particularly difficult and challenging for those who experience anxiety or have been diagnosed with it . This can  be quiet  challenging due to feeling  what has been described as very intense, frequent, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Such ongoing persistent feelings will impact  and interfere with  regular daily  routine farming workloads.. 

It is important to be able to  recognise the different forms of anxiety and how they can affect you, as well as adopting positive coping strategies. Anxiety happens when you become overwhelmed by fear and want to avoid situations that might make you anxious.Some of the most common signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excessive fear and worry
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty sleeping

Some commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders  Generalised anxiety disorder as discussed above include

  • Social anxiety disorder –experience extreme fear or anxiety triggered by social situations such as family get togethers parties, or everyday situations where you have to talk to another person .
  • Panic  Attacks – having regular or frequent panic attacks without a clear cause or trigger. can mean that you feel constantly afraid of having another panic attack, to the point that this fear itself can trigger your panic attacks. Panic Attacks can involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear even  terror to the point that it  reaches a peak within minutes. Such attacks have been compared to the feeling of having a heart attack. such experiences can be  extremely frightening.
  • Phobias – a phobia is an extreme fear or anxiety triggered by a particular situation such as going outside of your house or a particular object or thing 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – this is a diagnosis you may be given if you develop anxiety problems after going through something you found traumatic such as an unexpected death or  serious farm injury PTSD can involve experiencing flashbacks or nightmares which  feels like you’ reliving all the fear and anxiety you experienced at the time of the traumatic events.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – involve having repetitive thoughts, behaviours or expectation that things must be done a certain way.

Stigma

The stigma associated with mental health challenges in the farming community is  complex and significant. It stems from a combination of cultural, economic, and social factors that contribute to a unique set of challenges faced by farmers which contribute to avoidance of  farmers talking about their mental health challenges. Such stigma can be viewed though the following core issues impacting on farmers

Historical Stigma and Tradition: Traditionally, farming has been seen as a tough, resilient occupation where mental and physical strength are highly valued. Such a historical perspective can perpetuate the idea that admitting to mental health challenges is antithetical to the identity of a farmer.

Macho Culture: There can be a prevailing sense of machismo in farming communities, where emotional vulnerability is often viewed as a sign of weakness. This can create a reluctance to discuss or acknowledge mental health  challenges and or personal struggles.

Rural Culture and Self-Reliance: Farming communities often have a strong sense of self-reliance and independence. Mental health issues can be viewed as a sign of weakness or a failure to cope with the demands of the lifestyle. This cultural norm can discourage farmers from seeking help.

Isolation and Loneliness: Farming as previously noted  can be an isolating occupation, due to the long hours associated with farming practices. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and exacerbate existing mental health challenges. The lack of social interaction can also make it difficult for farmers to recognize when they or their peers are struggling.

Uncertainty and Financial Pressures Farming  by its nature as previously noted tends to be highly unpredictable. The fluctuating  circumstances as previously noted debts can lead to significant levels of stress and anxiety. Seeking help for mental health challenges due to such  precarious circumstances may seem like another burden and one to be avoided

Lack of Access to Services: Lack of accessible mental health services  can make it challenging for farmers to get the appropriate help they need at times of crises. Rural areas often have limited access to mental health resources compared to urban areas. There might be fewer mental health professionals, treatment facilities, and support groups available.

Lack of Awareness and Education: In some cases, there may be limited awareness and understanding of mental health issues within farming communities. This lack of education can lead to misconceptions and a failure to recognize when help is needed.Addressing the stigma associated with mental health in farming communities requires a multi-faceted approach. This includes:

Addressing Stigma and Mental Health Challenges

By addressing these factors, it is possible to reduce the stigma associated with mental health in farming.  through the provision of:

Education and Awareness: Providing education about mental health, its prevalence, and the resources available is crucial. This can help break down misconceptions and encourage open conversations

Supportive Networks:  Encourage  farmers  to connect and support one another  and in doing so this will can help combat the isolation and loneliness

Promoting Resilience and Coping Strategies: Teaching farmers effective coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and uncertainty is important for maintaining good mental health.

Championing Mental Health Advocacy: Influential figures and farm leaders  and role models, can play a significant role in reducing stigma by openly discussing mental health challenges

What steps can be taken in the topic to achieve the five ways to well-being. Simple examples of behavior suitable for farmers 

Connect 

  • Social interaction and  feeling valued by other people  are fundamental human needs. It  can be difficult to form regular social connections outside of farm life, so it may be necessary to make time  to get out to socialise that best suit your needs.
    A couple of suggestions include arranging to go for a cup of tea, a walk  and a chat with a    neighbour,  perhaps consider volunteering  in your local community which is an excellent way of networking

Be Active 

  • Make physical activity a regular habit, as it can be a game changer in lifting your mood from a low spot to a better place.Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression  stress and anxiety. It  promotes both  physical and mental  health and  well-being. I
    One useful way in terms of farming is to consider abandoning the quad occasionally and get in a swift walk. It is well established that that  planned exercise releases endorphins that can make a person feel more alert, more energised, and able to cope with challenges. Another suggestion  is to create off farm activity , such as joining a cycle club, join a football team, seek out indoor activities that are organised by local sports clubs

Take Notice 

  • Take notice of how you are feeling both physically and mentally. When a farmer is busy there is a risk of physical and mental overload creating a  risk of  exhaustion and burnout . The most practical thing to do to reduce such clutter,   stop, pause, collect your thoughts by being aware of the generous  nature around you, the sound of animals grazing , birds,  the beauty of the trees that line your land – giving yourself these few random moments of self-care can help you feel calm and in control. 

Keep Learning 

  • Being interested about all sorts of matters on and off the farm is good for the mind and body.. Learning about new ways of farming keeps you motivated and active.
    It is important for self-esteem to embrace new opportunities and experiences. Check out  local  Adult Education Programmes and see  what they have on offer. Joining in  with adult classes also provides the opportunity to develop new friends and to socialise.
    Local libraries are offer a wealth of information and offer community talks on all kinds of matters. Avail of on line learning  opportunities

Give (1-2 Steps):

  • Give and giving while important and beneficial as they can make  you feel better with the acknowledgment and sharing of gratitude. It  very  commendable when your time, words, and deeds benefit others. It is like an emotional endorphin that  creates positive feelings  and energises you. It can be connecting with a neighbour that is struggling, listening, and offering the hand of friendship.
  • However, allow yourself self care and compassion.Take a moment out, pause to think about your own needs and give to yourself, some personal quality time. It is not a selfish thing to do.