THE numbers of farmers coping with mental health problems will be much higher than is realised, says a top Cumbrian farm leader.

"There are more than we think," says Alistair Mackintosh, National Farmers Union Cumbrian council delegate.

"But farmers are too busy to take the time to recognise they are suffering mental health problems, so it is difficult to pin down and to put it on a scale of one to ten."

For years mental health in the farming sector has been an important topic, but now it is in the spotlight thanks to farming help charity RABI, who has launched the biggest survey of its kind to identify the key challenges affecting people’s physical and mental health and how these impact on the running of farm businesses.

The charity, which has teamed up with the Centre for Rural Research based at the University of Exeter and key stakeholders and partners across the agricultural industry, will use the findings to help it formulate strategies in order to help farmers who may be struggling.

RABI chief executive Alicia Chivers said they were aware of the mounting pressures facing farmers, but that no farmer should have to face adversity alone.

Ms Chivers said: "To serve our community effectively, we require a greater understanding of how these factors affect daily life which is why we have launched the Big Farming Survey.

"Farming people are raised to be ‘robust’ and ‘resilient’, yet these expectations simply are not realistic. We are not indestructible.

"The reality is we all have the capacity to be affected by difficulties and challenges. By initiating frank and honest conversations, I believe we can begin to normalise our vulnerabilities.

"Breaking down these invisible barriers will ultimately empower farming people - ensuring they can move forward more positively by accessing the support that they need."

The survey covers a wide range of ’stressors’ affecting those who work in the industry, from cashflow worries and dealing with red tape, to grappling with bovine TB, succession planning and coping with physical pain and injuries.

RABI has set the ambitious target of achieving 26,000 responses which it says will help it build ‘the most comprehensive picture of life in agriculture today’.

"The research will enable us to formulate more effective tools and support strategies to enhance farmer wellbeing now and into the future,” said Ms Chivers, adding the initiative formed part of the charity’s five-year strategy to reach a wider audience."

The survey will close on March 31 with initial results published in July, and can be completed online at