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Breaking the stigma of discussing rural mental health

Breaking the stigma of discussing rural mental health

Today, Sam, Emily and their 2 children live on property near Hereford where they raise about 500 head of sheep.

The National Lottery

4 min read Partner content

Sam Stables always dreamed of being a farmer, but when he achieved his goal the pressures of making a living on the land almost destroyed him. Thanks to National Lottery funding, he is using his experience to help others in the community.

One morning he went into a building at his farm in Somerset and hung a rope from the rafters. He fashioned a noose and put it around his neck. He said, “I remember feeling it was exactly what I needed to do to make the pain in my head go away. I just felt my wife would be better off without me.”

Fortunately, his attempt to take his own life was thwarted by a neighbour who intervened after receiving a frantic phone call from Sam’s wife Emily. After recovering in hospital he started to see a counsellor and began taking medication to help him with his depression. Today, Sam, Emily and their 2 children live on property near Hereford where they raise about 500 head of sheep.

A 2020 survey by the Farm Safety Foundation, found 92 percent of UK farmers under 40 believed poor mental health to be the biggest issue they face.

Why did he try to take his own life? Sam said, “Agriculture is an industry like no other – it’s your whole life. A farmer spends so much time on their own and there are so many things that are out of their control. I can’t say the specific thing that knocked the dominos over for me, but I just felt I couldn’t be here anymore.”

During his recovery, Sam came to understand he was far from alone. Long hours, isolation, exposure to harsh weather and relentless financial pressure all take their toll. A 2020 survey by the Farm Safety Foundation, found 92 percent of UK farmers under 40 believed poor mental health to be the biggest issue they face.

Determined to help other struggling farm workers, Sam and Emily started We Are Farming Minds, a project supported with National Lottery funding. Its aim is to help raise mental health awareness in rural Herefordshire and support the wellbeing of farmers across the country.

Sam and Emily are just 2 of the local heroes doing amazing things with funding made possible by National Lottery players and their efforts have been recognised with a well-deserved nomination for a 2022 National Lottery Award in the Community and Charity category. Describing his excitement at being nominated, Sam said, “It’s amazing and it’s fantastic to get recognition that there's a need for the services we offer.”

We Are Farming Minds offers free mental health awareness training to anyone in the agricultural community – vets, agronomists and feed company representatives for example – who are in regular contact with farmers.

Sam said, “These are the people who are out on the farms and can recognise the symptoms of depression. We wanted to give them the tools to know what to say and what to do.”

Since starting the scheme about 6 months ago, We Are Farming Minds has already trained about 200 people.

National Lottery funding also supports the project’s 24-hour helpline, a service staffed by Emily and Sam and a team of trained volunteers. It’s an important resource in a sector where stoicism and traditional notions of farming can make it hard to open up about mental health issues.

Sam said, “Farmers are often seen as big burly people who can battle the weather, so it’s important to break the stigma of discussing mental health. I’m the biggest lad myself and I can cry like a baby.”

The National Lottery Awards are the annual search to find the ordinary people who have done extraordinary things with the help of National Lottery funding. More than 1,500 inspirational people and projects were nominated for last year’s awards – now the search is on for 2022’s nominees. Winners will receive a £5,000 cash prize and an iconic National Lottery Awards trophy. Local heroes can be nominated for a National Lottery Award here.

Thanks to National Lottery players, over £30 million is raised for Good Causes every week, funding projects like We Are Farming Minds and helping communities come together across the UK.

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