Farming community must ensure they tend to their mental health – MEP Maria Walsh

With suicide ideation twice as high among the farming community as in the general population, it’s time we addressed the silent and heartbreaking pandemic, says MEP Walsh

Farming communities across rural Ireland are being urged to ensure they are tending to more than their land and livestock this Christmas, with suicide ideation twice as high among farmers as in the general population. Speaking from the European Parliament in Strasbourg, MEP Maria Walsh said mental health initiatives and targeted funding are desperately needed at a national and European level to support farmers and their families. As Christmas approaches, she appealed to farmers all over Ireland to take care of themselves and their neighboring farmers over the holidays, acknowledging that Christmas can be difficult for many people. In addition, she called on the Parliament to deliver a mental health report, addressing the long-awaited needs of all our citizens.

The Fine Gael MEP was speaking ahead of this afternoon’s vote in the European Parliament, calling for substantial supports to be introduced across member states to help prevent mental health conditions and promote mental health for all, especially among vulnerable groups in society. She stressed the need for a mental-health-in-all-policies approach, accompanied by specific and appropriate funding, as well as the establishment of a European Year dedicated to Mental Health. 

“In Ireland, we have taken some steps in the right direction with programmers such as On Feirm Ground, Make The Moove, and the recent research by UCD School of Agricultural & Food Science, but we need to do more and we need to keep this on the agenda. Mental health has got to be a real and genuine political priority on the local, national and European stage. The reality is that mental ill heath and suicidal ideations have become the norm, and shockingly, almost 25% of Irish farmers are at risk of suicide. Nonetheless, we are not talking about it, and the subject continues to be swept under the carpet. We need to break down the barriers and address the taboo. This is a silent and deadly pandemic and we are continuing to ignore the issue,” said MEP Walsh.

Pleading to farmers all over Ireland to break the silence, the stigma and fear, and to seek help, she said farmers have culturally always  prioritized tending to the land and animals, instead of to their mental health. “Our farmers must be supported with mental health initiatives and targeted funding at an EU level to stop death by suicide and to bring an end to this silent pandemic in our society today. There is a growing body of international research recognizing the challenges relating to farmers’ psychosocial work environment and mental health, and we need to step up and put the necessary supports in place,” she added.