By Kernan Andrews
Agricultural inspectors need to be given awareness training so they can “handle situations more sensitively” and spot farmers “at risk” of mental health issues.
This is the view of County Galway senator Fidelma Healy-Eames who has written to the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, about the issue. Her calls follow the documented high level of suicide amongst the farming community.
She said it is important for psychologists to address Department of Agriculture inspectors on the subject of the mental health and suicide among members of the farming community, as part of their in-service training.
“Mental health is a complex and specialist area,” she said, “but psychologists would be able to alert inspectors to a number of important areas for example, the ‘at risk’ signs to be aware of, the use of appropriate and non-threatening language when addressing compliance or non-compliance issues with farmers.”
Sen Healy-Eames also said that a major stress affecting farmers is the arrival of “the post card or the phone call, sometimes with as little as two hours notice,” from a Department inspector informing them of an imminent compliance inspection.
She also said it may be “helpful” for a farmer to be able to declare on his application form if s/he has suffered from depression or has mental health issues.
“There is no shame in this and it could be helpful for all concerned,” said Sen Healy-Eames. “Farmers should not live in fear of department inspectors. They should be seen as a support in what is mainly a lonely, one man show with many farmers living in isolation with no support mechanism in place.”