It’s a surprise to nobody that the past year has been especially tough for people everywhere, including people throughout the farming community. 

That’s why we are going to place a big focus on mental health in farming across our social channels during 2021. We want to show people that they’re not alone, they’re being supported, and that they have a place to turn to if they need to talk. 

To kick things off, we caught up with the charity Farming Community Network (FCN) for a Q&A session to discuss the big mental health challenges facing agriculture today, explore the support they offer, and showcase some of the amazing work they do every day.

Let’s get started…

Who are FCN?

“Founded in 1995, FCN has spent the last 26 years helping to support farmers not just during periods of crisis, but also advocating for early intervention to support farmers and farming families during difficult times. 

Today FCN is a national charity with over 400 volunteers, based in England and Wales. Through these local groups of volunteers, we work closely with farmers and organisations at a local and national scale. Each year, we help approximately 6,000 farmers and farming families in need across the UK.” 

FCN banner

Q: What kind of support does FCN provide, and to who? 

“FCN provides practical and pastoral support to the farming community. This support is free, confidential and non-judgemental. We provide a listening ear and signpost people to help available, depending on their situation and requirements.

FCN also supports farmers’ business and personal resilience through our FarmWell platform – a resource containing useful information around all sorts of topics, from mental health to financial support available to farmers. 

We are also running a campaign called Time to Plan, where we’re working with industry partners and thought leaders to provide the farming community with useful information around planning ahead for the future and managing change.”

Q: What are the main concerns/worries within the community right now? 

“Calls to FCN’s Helpline provide useful insights into farmers’ experiences. Presently, we know many farmers are facing challenges due to uncertainty around the long-term sustainability of their businesses in light of changes taking place in British agriculture and the phasing out of BPS payments. 

Farming has an ageing population, and there are concerns around retirement and the challenges of encouraging young people to enter the industry.

Mental health is another concern, with a large number of people contacting FCN expressing feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. We need to ensure farmers are aware of the different forms of support available to them and seek it early when required. “

Q: Has the past year been especially challenging for the farming community, and why?

“Covid-19 has put additional stress on some farmers, and has affected certain sectors of farming significantly. The cancellation of many events, shows, markets, and marts has put a strain on farmers’ ability to socialise and to operate their businesses as they would in ‘normal’ times.

 There are concerns around heightened feelings of isolation and loneliness, and Covid-19 restrictions have created logistical challenges for farming support charities, as we have been unable to engage with and support farmers face-to-face. 

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and changes to farming subsidies can be a cause of stress for some and presents a challenge for how many farmers operate their businesses.” 

Q: How has the work of FCN volunteers been able to make a difference?

“During the pandemic, we have provided training to our volunteers on using remote technologies such as Zoom, doing our best to ensure we can continue to operate an effective service. Our volunteers continue to provide support virtually, or over the phone. We continue to adapt our response based on government guidelines and rules. 

We support approximately 6,000 farmers and farming families each year with issues such as financial problems, mental health, family relationship issues, livestock disease and more. We hear from farmers who say that we have helped them through difficult periods, and in some instances, FCN has been described as the lifeline they desperately needed. 

Our volunteers understand farming life and can talk to farmers in a language they understand and share their own experiences. In some instances, those we have helped have later volunteered with FCN, showing how much of an impact our work makes.”

Q: What would you say to anyone who’s hesitant to ask for help/reach out?

“There is no shame in seeking help when we are going through a difficult time or don’t know how to resolve an issue. Often seeking support early can make a big difference in overcoming adversity, and talking to someone who understands what you are going through can help provide clarity or a different perspective. 

Suffering in silence doesn’t help you or those around you, and can lead to additional stress or mental ill-health. FCN’s support is free, confidential and non-judgemental.”

Q: Can anyone volunteer for FCN?

“FCN’s volunteers are trusted due to their knowledge of the agricultural sector. Volunteers ideally will have good local and regional agricultural knowledge and contacts in order to support clients. 

We welcome volunteers of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life in farming to volunteer with us!”

Q: How can people find out about their local FCN team?

“Wherever you live in England or Wales, our Helpline team can put you in touch with a local FCN volunteer or other local farming support group.

For operational purposes, local volunteer groups are separated into six regions each under the guidance of a Regional Director with each local group having its own officers, led by a Co-ordinator for day to day activities.” 

FCN Mental Health blog photo 1

Jude McCann: The CEO of FCN

Q: Why is it so important to raise awareness of charities like FCN?

“Farming requires long working hours, often in isolation or with little interaction with others, and many farmers rely on subsidies or additional funding to operate. Farmers keep the country running, feeding the nation and tending to the countryside. 

Charities like FCN are here to support farmers through the unique pressures they face. Charities like FCN offer a vital point of contact for farmers, supporting them directly and also letting them know about other forms of support available. 

Our work saves lives, supports health and wellbeing, helps people stay resilient, and ensures businesses can continue to operate smoothly.”

Moving towards better mental health

The FCN have spent over 25 years helping farming families in need, and the past year has proved that the challenges won’t just keep coming, but they can impact us all in ways we can’t predict.

If you or someone you know is struggling to keep afloat during these uncertain times, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a support network like the FCN. Simply talking about your problems can be a monumental first step to improving your mental health, and thanks to charities like the FCN, there are plenty of people willing and eager to listen.

No matter what’s going on in the world, you never have to cope with it alone.

Getting in touch with FCN

Looking to learn more about the charity and their work, or get in touch with them? Visit their website for all their latest updates and details.

Want to know where your nearest FCN group is located? You can view a map and further details of FCN’s groups here:

Keen to get involved and volunteer? More information about volunteering with FCN can be found here.

If you would like to make a donation in support of the work FCN does, visit their donation page here.

If you have any questions or thoughts on this blog, the FCN or mental health in general, be sure to visit our Twitter and Facebook pages and share your thoughts with us and our community!