Addressing suicidal ideation among farming community is just as important as physical farm safety – MEP Walsh

Ireland and Europe must introduce a mental health strategy for the farming community to address the silent pandemic, with almost a quarter of Irish farmers at risk of suicide 

IRELAND: Ireland must introduce a specific mental health strategy to address the silent  pandemic that is casting a shadow across the farming community in rural Ireland. That was the message delivered by Midlands-North-West MEP Maria Walsh, when she hosted an  event in Brussels this week with her EPP colleague, MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere. As part  of EU Mental Health Week, the Fine Gael MEP hosted the event with the Belgian MEP,  focusing on mental health and suicide prevention within the farming community. 

While farm safety is a major issue in Ireland, MEP Walsh believes that mental heath  challenges and suicidal ideations have sadly become the norm, and shockingly, almost 25%  of Irish farmers are at risk of suicide. MEP Walsh believes that addresing the suicidal  ideation among the farming community is just as important as tackling the safety risks  associated with life on the farm. As part of the event, MEP Walsh invited representatives  from UCD’s School of Agriculture and Food Science, and from the School of  Psychology, to share their research, highlighting the frightening reality that 25% of Irish  farmers are at risk of suicide. 

Offaly’s Dr Tomas Russell from UCD’s School of Agriculture and Food Science, and  Mayo’s Professor Louise McHugh from the School of Psychology, addressed the forum  in Brussels this week, and noted that the findings from their survey were “stark but not surprising”. In a study conducted by the UCD team, the findings showed that 23.4% of  Irish farmers surveyed were considered “at risk of suicide”, and in the two weeks prior to  the survey, these farmers had “suicidal thoughts or urges to take their own lives”. 

During a week in which the European Parliament has been focusing on mental health,  MEP Walsh wanted to ensure that the Irish farming and rural community were properly  represented on the European stage. She also wanted to highlight the fact that mental  health difficulties in the farming community have been the silent pandemic for far too  long, and something desperately needs to change. 

Farm safety is a major issue in rural Ireland. It is one that we hear about in the media  and through safety campaigns, and rightly so. The difficulty, however, is that mental  health is just as much of a problem in our farming community today, and sadly, we are  still not talking about it. We need to break down the barriers and address the taboo. Our  farming community, particularly in rural Ireland, is finding it really tough and we are  continuing to ignore the difficulties,” she added. 

The event heard that mental health difficulties have become a silent pandemic across  Ireland in recent years, and an EU-wide mental health strategy is critical to address this.  “We need to listen to farmers and involve the farming community in the discussion. We also must ensure that research is the backbone of any policy or support on farmer  mental health, and that the voice of the farming community is heard.”