Northern Ireland

Are farmers getting the mental health support they need?

Signs at the event in Cookstwon
Image caption Rural Support say calls from farmers have increased

Talking about mental health can be tough.

But a charity which helps farmers and rural families in Northern Ireland says there's been a 25% increase in the number of farmers calling them for help in the past year.

Rural Support's chief executive, Jude McCann, told the BBC the most common reason for calls was financial worries.

He was speaking at the Farmers Health Conference, in Cookstown, County Tyrone, on Thursday.

Health organisations and government groups came together to discuss the problems facing farmers.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has blamed falling farm gate prices for some of the stress farmers face.

'Challenging year'

She says: "People are at the end of their tether.

"There is no doubt about it, this has been such a financially challenging year.

"The prices they're receiving are putting farmers out of business and the impact on them is obvious. I am engaging with farmers who aren't sleeping because of the worry and the stress they are under. It's just so important that we have this conversation."

Image caption Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill says farmers have faced a challenging year

The conference brought together people from across the agri-health sector to try and improve the support services currently on offer.

Community mental health worker, Mellissa Andrews, told delegates a more tailored support is needed to reach out to farmers.

"Not everyone is comfortable going to a meditation class, or yoga or even a computer class - that's not the farmers' way," she says.

"The best thing to do would be to get out there into their communities; the local shows and vintage rallies and meet them on their own level."

Trigger points

Cormac McKervey is agri-manager at the Ulster Bank and deals with farmers everyday.

He says that although the bank has to focus on the financial side of things, they need to be aware of what support services are out there too.

Image caption Cormac McKervey, from Ulster Bank, says some farmers need more than financial help

"There's all the social issues and the impact on the family inside the farm door, which we don't have access to.

"The biggest single thing we can do is to make our staff aware of the issues and the trigger points, to be aware that maybe this farmer needs more than purely financial help.

"If we can signpost them to rural support or other agencies that are trying to help them then hopefully we've done something."