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18th March, 2021

A new short film featuring a Somerset farmer opening up about their experience of mental ill-health has recently launched.

The film, titled ‘The Hill Farmer’, highlights the vital role of support organisations and charities in helping farmers during challenging times and supporting mental health and wellbeing.

The film features Oliver Edwards, a well-known Exmoor farmer, telling his story of dealing with pressures on the farm at the same time as battling a diagnosis of colon cancer. This took an enormous toll on Oliver’s mental health, and he had suicidal thoughts. You can watch Oliver’s story below…

The film has been produced by The Somerset Mental Health in Agriculture Group (SMHAG). SMHAG is group of individuals, from various rural organisations, with a common interest in raising awareness about mental health in agriculture.

The Farming Community Network (FCN), a charity and voluntary organisation with volunteers in England and Wales, has seen an increase in the percentage of calls to its Helpline (03000 111 999) over the past year that contain a mental health component, such as stress or anxiety.

One SMHAG member is Tod Merson, an FCN volunteer in Somerset. Tod said: “Oliver’s story mirrors my own. When I experienced depression during my farming career, admitting it to anyone else was the hardest thing to do. It is also the essential first step on the path to recovery.”

The film was financed by The Bridgwater Agricultural Society (BAS), as part of its role in supporting farmers in Somerset. BAS director and Levels farmer James Winslade is also one of the founders of the national charity, Forage Aid.

James said: “My work helping other farmers through extreme weather crises has convinced me of the need for better support for mental health. My hope is that this film, and the training built around it, will make a contribution to this.”

SMHAG’s Chair, Becky Wright from New Leaf, runs mental health training courses throughout Somerset and the South West. She said: “’The Hill Farmer’, as well as being a very powerful film, will make an ideal training tool. The issues that Oliver talks about are central to an understanding of how farmers see themselves. I am developing a course which uses the film to help train others in giving support to the farming community.”

Last month, a study by the Farm Safety Foundation revealed that 88% of farmers under the age of 40 rank poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today.

89% of young farmers believe that talking about mental health in farming will remove any stigma attached to it.

If you or someone you know needs some support, The Farming Community Network runs a confidential national helpline (03000 111 999) and e-helpline (help@fcn.org.uk) which is open every day of the year from 7am-11pm.

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