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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Putting doctors and nurses in marts will help remove mental health stigma

Offering healthcare services at livestock marts will help to remove the stigma about seeking help among the agricultural community.

That is according to a new research study from the University of Exeter, which involved over 17 livestock marts across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

A total of 90 people participated in the study, which included:

  • 42 farmers;
  • 27 auction operators;
  • 15 individuals from support initiatives (including nurses);
  • 6 other mart stakeholders (chairpersons or trading standards officers).
Mental health stigma

Researchers highlighted how farmers, particularly men, can frequently resist seeking support.

However, the team believes that putting doctors and nurses in a place where they meet and work with others regularly – such as livestock marts – can “help break down barriers”.

Dr Caroline Nye believes “we need to stop those in the agricultural community feeling reluctant to seek help and remove any shame or stigma they associate with seeing a doctor or nurse”.

She is of the view that “putting services in livestock marts can help to create positive attitudes towards health services”.

“They can be used to show masculine behaviour not to see a doctor is not healthy through peer-to-peer persuasion in the places where farmers feel at home and part of their community.”

“Livestock marts continue to be entrenched in tradition but can also be spaces where outdated and potentially harmful behaviour can be challenged.”

“Often farmers will not go to the doctor for a multitude of reasons, but if the healthcare professional is brought to them, then fewer barriers remain to their seeking help,” she added.

Barriers

Those who took part in the research said the following prevented them from seeking support:

  • Masculine traits, including pride, fear of being judged;
  • Stoicism linked to their farming identity;
  • Time constraints;
  • The need to change out of work clothes;
  • Need to book and travel to an appointment, and thus take time off work;
  • Inconvenience;
  • Work commitments;
  • Flexibility issues – surgery’s opening hours;
  • Appointment availability – particularly mental health services;
  • Developing confidence in the service – a mistrust of practitioners.
Seeking help 

Farmers ranged in age from 25 to 83, and six were women. Of the 17 auction mart sites, two hosted permanent clinics, three hosted mobile clinics, and four hosted ad hoc services.

Most interviewees said an illness or injury must be “extremely bad” before they seek help. Most farmers interviewed viewed the placing of health hubs at auction marts positively.

Several farmers spoke proudly of the fact that “farmers are known for not seeking help”.

Some farmers said they had continued to work for several hours with injuries later diagnosed as broken bones or torn ligaments.

Others were reported to have continued to work for days before seeking help.
Many interviewees said farmers often went to the doctor because of pressure from a female relative.

Those who were older (over 55) were considered more likely to delay help-seeking.

Several farmers across a range of age groups, as well as auction operators, admitted to having experienced challenges with their mental health.

Many pointed to a preference to talk to a rural chaplain, friends, or family members before a professional.

Some farmers interviewed lived in rural or semi-rural locations and had to travel to local towns or villages to see a health professional.

Because of the long hours they worked, they were unable to take time out from animals or land.

Researchers added that “they were more likely to put the welfare of their animals before their own”.

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