Ireland’s dairy sector is driving a rural mental health campaign by featuring Samaritans’ helpline signage on milk tankers.
The new partnership with milk processors – Dairy Industry Ireland (DII) members – aims to raise awareness of Samaritans freephone number: 116 123 among farmers and other people in rural Ireland, especially those living or working in isolation.
The signs will appear on approximately 500 milk trucks and agri-feed vehicles, which some of the country’s largest co-operatives own.
The following co-ops are supporting the initiative:
- Carbery (including Drinagh, Bandon, Lisavard and Barryroe co-ops);
- North Cork;
- Ornua (Kerrygold);
Conor Ryan, DII chair and chief executive of Arrabawn Co-Op, said:
“The DII members are delighted to support Samaritans and spread the message that help is there for anyone who is struggling to cope.”
“Our vehicles travel more than 50 million kilometres across the country every year, especially over the summer months, visiting some of the most rural areas in Ireland.”
“If even one person who sees a sign makes a call for help, we know we will have made a difference.”
Farmer mental health and well-being
Martin Heydon, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for Farm Safety, launched the campaign at Peter and Paula Hynes’ dairy farm in Aherla, Co Cork.
Minister Heydon said:
“Farmers are exposed to a lot of work pressures and often find themselves working long hours alone.”
“This can lead to isolation and mental health issues, a real concern for so many people living in rural Ireland.”
Heydon said he is determined to see a “greater” focus on farmer mental health and well-being given the “inextricably link” with farm safety.
He said the initiative could make a “real” difference in reaching those who need support most. “I want to commend the leadership shown by all those involved.”
Peter and Paula Hynes
Peter Hynes has openly spoken about his own mental health struggles.
He founded AgMentalHealthWeek with his wife, Paula, to show others in rural areas that support is available.
Hynes acknowledged that farming is “a demanding and tough” occupation for some.
“Ensuring we highlight the importance of reaching out for support in times of crisis is crucial. A united voice is the greatest way to reduce stigma around mental health and suicide,” he said.
“The scale of this message and collaboration between Samaritans Ireland and the Irish dairy industry is truly inspiring, ensuring rural Ireland know there is always someone willing to listen.”
Samaritans’ volunteers answer over half a million calls for help annually.
Loneliness and isolation
Samaritans’ deputy regional director, Aileen Spitere, said the initiative would target those hard-to-reach groups who are often most at risk of loneliness and isolation, may have family, work or financial worries, have mental health problems, or feel suicidal.
She said the charity is “delighted” to have dairy co-operatives’ support for this campaign.
It hopes to reach not only dairy farmers but anyone living, working or driving in rural areas “who may see our helpline number on a vehicle”.
“We want people to know that Samaritans is here for anyone struggling to cope. No matter who you are or where you are, freephone 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Furthermore, Spitere stated that mental health challenges and suicide are complex. She said they go beyond simply where you live or what profession. However, these could also be factors.
Concluding, she said:
“The increased risk factors for those living in rural and agricultural settings such as poor access to services, isolation and persistent loneliness mean it is essential for us to do more to reach people in these environments.”