CW86: Increase in Crisis Calls to FCN Helpline During Pandemic

By Alex Phillimore

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Farming Community Network (FCN, has seen an increase in calls to its helpline. This isn’t unexpected: after all, FCN is known for supporting rural communities during times of uncertainty and crisis, and we would expect a global pandemic to result in more people seeking our support. Those who have known the charity since we were founded in 1995 will remember us as the Farm Crisis Network, and we are still occasionally referred to as such, with people recalling the support we provided during crises such as foot-and-mouth and BSE.

What was perhaps slightly less expected is the amount of calls we have received this year which have a mental health component. 71% of new cases presenting to FCN in April, May and June of this year were classified as ‘stress-related’; digging deeper, we discovered this stress was caused by issues such as COVID-19, financial troubles, relationship issues and uncertainties about the future. While those who seek the support of FCN do so for varied reasons – with no two cases being alike – the burden they carry often has a similarly negative impact on their mental health. One issue can lead to another with, for example, a challenging harvest causing issues at home which lead to further stress.

Farming is not an easy profession and a degree of stress is often expected. It comes with the territory, and in some situations stress can be good; many of us would attest that we perform at our best in stressful situations and it can be the great motivator that gets us to do some of our best work. But too much stress can be dangerous; at its worst, stress is a result of situations beyond our control, when we’re forced to suddenly react to something we hadn’t planned for. For farmers, for whom every day can bring an unexpected series of events, stress can build up.

In these situations, many of us have an outlet through which we can vent our feelings and frustrations. Whether it’s a group of friends or a family member, having people to talk to can take some of the pressure off us; by talking about our feelings we can often feel the stress that has built up disperse, almost like air being let out of a canister. But for farmers, who frequently work long hours in isolated environments, that outlet isn’t always there. The same can be said for the wider farming family; being alone in a farmhouse while your partner is out until the early hours of the morning can be lonely.

Without an outlet through which you can talk about what’s on your mind and the challenges you’re facing, issues can stack up until everything feels overwhelming. Much has been written about the high rate of suicides in the farming community. Research shows 1% of all suicide cases in England and Wales are from members of the farming community, and data from the Office for National Statistics suggests that on average one farmer dies a week by suicide.

There is still a stigma around talking about mental health, and some farmers still find it difficult to admit when they may be struggling or when their farming business is facing challenges. Thankfully, attitudes are changing, and people are becoming more aware of their mental health and more willing to open up. We particularly see this with younger farmers, with 84% of those under the age of 40 believing mental health to be the biggest danger facing the industry, according to data from the Farm Safety Foundation.

We’re also seeing more mental health campaigns taking place, such as the Samaritans’ Real People, Real Stories campaign which launched this year, and in October the industry got behind #AgMentalHealthWeek 2020. More organisations are training mental health first aiders and since 2013 FCN has worked in partnership with the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs to develop and deliver Rural+ mental health awareness training in England and Wales (

This all suggests things are moving in a positive direction, but there is still more work to be done. Encouraging people to talk and open up is still vitally important, and FCN is continuing to play a significant role in providing this service to those who need someone to talk to in a confidential environment and without judgement. Our volunteers in England and Wales have a great understanding of rural life and farming issues, and are on hand to provide a listening ear to, and walk alongside, those in need of support. We must continue to promote openness and the importance of talking; when people see others opening up, it can help break down some of the barriers and remove some of the stigma, so sharing more real life stories will help make a big difference.

We also find that a lack of medium and long-term business planning and later life planning are contributory factors in many cases that present to FCN, which can often lead to increased stress as well as contributing to family relationship issues, financial problems and difficulties in managing the farm in older age. Uncertainty in the farming industry caused by Brexit and changes to the European Union Basic Payment Scheme support system are further stressors, and many farmers are struggling.

In response to this, FCN have launched a new project called Time to Plan, which is all about supporting and encouraging people through change. The project helps to raise awareness about the importance of forward planning and encourages farmers to prepare for change from both personal and business perspectives. Our FarmWell websites (, available in English and Welsh, contain lots of useful information to help farmers stay mentally resilient and safeguard their farming businesses for the future.

During these changing and uncertain times, we have seen how the nation is strongest when we come together. To create a healthier farming future, we must continue to work collaboratively, engender a culture of openness around mental health in farming, and provide support to those who are experiencing hardship.


Alex Phillimore

Marketing and Communications Manager

The Farming Community Network




This article first appeared in Country Way 86: Mental Health & Wellbeing, February 2021. Go to for more information about how to subscribe.