Paula Hynes: Cultivating mental wellbeing in rural Ireland

Paula Hynes: Cultivating mental wellbeing in rural Ireland

(Left to right) Pete Hynes, Dr David Meredith, Minister Martin Heydon, Dr Donnla O Hagan and Dr Noel Richardson at the Cultivating mental wellbeing in rural Ireland conference.

With the farm fully organized after our trip to Edinburgh, I had the opportunity to get off the farm for the day with Pete on the Monday after Men's Health Day as he was speaking at the Cultivating Mental Wellbeing In Rural Ireland conference in Portlaoise which was being run by the Department Of Agriculture Food and The Marine in conjunction with the Department Of Health. 

It is good for us to get a spin away this year and with a superb group of speakers, I was keen to listen. Minister Martin Heydon gave the opening address and highlighted the fantastic work being done right across the country to improve mental health awareness in the Ag sector, going on to discuss the On Feirm Ground initiative that has been so successful in equipping frontline agricultural advisors with the knowledge, skills and competencies to engage, support and signpost on health issues. 

Phase two of the program is now being rolled out to include department staff and vets. Minister Heydon went on to speak about his drive to ring-fence the funding for supports and initiatives to ensure they continue into the future, quite a legacy for a minister to make such a huge long-term difference to farmers' mental health and wellbeing.

It was easy to see the minister's passion for the topic as he then went on to chair a fantastic panel discussion with Pete, Dr David Leydon of Teagasc, Dr Donnla O Hagan of DCU and Dr Noel Richardson who is a director of healthCORE. It is always interesting to listen to a panel discussion that flows but also interacts well with the audience. 

Dr Leydon highlighted that whilst mental health is a challenge in the Ag sector, research shows that it is not a crisis, a sentiment echoed by Pete who acknowledged the huge progress in breaking down stigma over the last few years and huge improvement in supports. 

Dr Leydon also drew reference to research from NUI Galway which shows that the public do value farmers and the food they produce, this is despite a small minority on social media and in the mainstream media constantly criticizing and blaming farmers for climate change etc. 

I feel as a farmer we can spend less time engaging with the negative people as they are certainly not the voice of Ireland. Dr O Hagan drew reference to the extensive work being done in DCU on how to provide support and also reach the farmers who are struggling. Dr Richardson spoke of his extensive work in helping build the On Feirm Ground initiative. 

Pete drew reference to the fact that while us farmers dread seeing the harp letter coming in the post or an inspection, the reality is DAFM staff are extremely aware of the pressure farmers can be under and always willing to work with farmers,.

It is certainly an experience we have always had through our farm that the DAFM vets and staff have always been very helpful, even going back as far as when we had a big TB breakdown and the vets worked with us to ensure we could protect the farm and livestock long-term. 

The panel agreed that climate change is a huge stress to farmers as they are at the forefront of global warming, working with extreme weather events and how it impacts the grazing season, making it more challenging to balance grazing with producing enough winter fodder. 

Pete finished by stating that farmers need to view themselves as elite athletes, with huge physical and mental demands, the reality is an athlete cannot perform at top level 365 days a year, they take breaks, ensure their performance peaks at the most important time but also places as much emphasis on their mental performance which improves their physical performance. 

Dr O Hagan has an extensive background in working with athletes and confirmed that if farmers viewed themselves in this light, they would be in a far better position to cope with any challenges that arise. The discussion also included fantastic questions from the audience. We also got to catch up with our good friends in the Samaritans and Embrace farm at the event.

With minister Heydon staying for the entire conference, the closing address came from Bill Callanan, Chief Inspector with DAFM, who also highlighted how On Feirm Ground is to be rolled out for department staff but also drew reference to the fact the conference was one of the main events being run by DAFM this year. 

Credit where credit is due that DAFM are taking mental wellbeing amongst farmers seriously given the investment being made in support and also the fact that the conference was the first of its kind in bringing so much knowledge and discussion to the public forum. 

Mr Callanan finished by saying one of his take-home messages was the importance of listening and I fully agree with him, we can talk and talk and also give a wealth of information but by simply listening, we will hear what those who are struggling require and a problem shared is a problem solved.

We will be heading to Portlaoise again this week, but in somewhat different attire as I have my ballgown ready for the black tie FBD Better Farming Awards, where myself and Pete are finalists in the AHV Innovator Farmer Of The Year. We are really looking forward to catching up with friends at the event and it will also be a chance to socialize with my editor Rachel Martin who is shortlisted for Best Journalistic Content Of The Year Award.

More in this section


Keep up-to-date with all the latest developments in Farming with our weekly newsletter

Sign up
Karen Walsh

Karen Walsh

Law of the Land


Sign up to the best reads of the week from selected just for you.

Sign up
Lunchtime News

Keep up with the stories of the day with our lunchtime news wrap.

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy Brand Safety FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Examiner Echo Group Limited