Inspirational Women Awards 2022 nominee joins Mind Your Head campaign for Northamptonshire farmers

After being left feeling 'isolated and alone' this mum is calling on farmers to 'ask twice' about mental health

By Max Pearson
Friday, 18th February 2022, 3:43 pm
Updated Friday, 18th February 2022, 3:44 pm

A nominee for West Northamptonshire's Inspirational Women Awards 2022 has spoken up for the national 'Mind Your Head' campaign, tackling the 'hidden problem' of farmers' mental health challenges.

Milly Fyfe, whose family's farm is based in Yelvertoft, has lent her voice to the campaign, run by the Farm Safety Council (FSC), after making it through her own mental health challenges.

Beginning by founding 'Home on the Farm', an online, women-only space for the wives of farmers who might be feeling isolated or in need of help, Milly has also raised the sector's profile with regular appearances on BBC Northampton, as well as helping with a recent video segment on BBC Look East.

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Milly Fyfe and her family.

The 37-year-old said: "After my youngest son, Dougie, was born, he had a really severe case of silent reflux, where stomach acid flows back up the esophagus (swallowing tube). As a newborn baby that can be extremely painful. I had to carry him upright because he couldn't lie down. He had to sleep on my chest as well.

"Having his brother, Angus, clinging at my leg, as they are only 15 months apart, and a baby that never slept properly for about 18 months was hard. Dougie was born via C-section as well, so I was trying to recover from that operation at the same time.

"Being a farmer's wife, looking after two very young children and trying to support my husband at home, I was basically running on empty without any support.

"My mental health took a big hit. I was feeling very isolated and alone and it was quite challenging. This was all just before Covid-19 as well, so it was really hard."

A recent study by the FSC revealed that mental health issues among farmers and agricultural workers are of 'growing concern' and are reportedly having a 'direct impact' on safety on farms.

The study found that 92 percent of farmers under the age of 40 suggested poor mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today - an increase from 82 percent in 2018.

In an industry where 34 farm workers lost their lives in fatal farm incidents in 2020/2021, there were a total of 44 suicides registered in England and Wales by those working in the farming and agricultural industry in 2020, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Milly said: "This year, the Mind Your Head campaign's theme is to 'ask twice'. How often do you say to someone 'are you okay?' and then just brush it off when they say they're 'okay'? But we're saying it's up to us to listen to the answer and check 'are you really okay?'.

"What's really concerning is the number of farmer suicides. I've had friends take their own life and known other people who have done the same, and many of them are younger than me.

"I've had a lot of messages from other members of the farming community, both local and national, that have said how helpful this messaging is and that has helped to start those conversations.

"One wife, whose husband is going through a tough period right now, said that he saw our video and was left in tears. Now they are starting conversation about his mental health."

Stephanie Berkeley, manager of the farm safety foundation, said: “As an industry, I think it is time we deal with the issue of poor mental health head on. We need to talk about our feelings and let everyone living and working in farming know that it’s completely ok to have feelings, good and bad, but it's also important to let them out.

"Life isn’t always as it seems, we don’t post on social media about the days that we wished we didn’t get out of bed or the days we didn’t feel like it. Most people feel the pressure to keep up with everyone’s ‘perfect’ life.

"Many living and working in rural communities are suffering and doing so in silence.

"As an industry, it’s time to ease the pressure, stop expecting people to be perfect and start talking openly about feelings with people you trust.”

Anyone who is interested can find out more online.

Call Samaritans on 116 123 or email [email protected] for mental health help.