THE ISSUE of rural mental health was discussed in the Houses of Parliament this week and a Cumbrian MP focussed-in on the disproportionately high suicide rate amongst veterinary staff.

Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and the Borders, took part in a select committee on Tuesday discussing Rural Mental Health.

Experts from mental health academia answered MPs questions on the challenges facing mental health services in rural communities.

The session was part of an ongoing Government inquiry on how to improve the quality of mental health provision in rural areas.

The inquiry heard that the issue of mental health in rural areas is “a perfect storm of factors,” amongst them, poverty takes a “significant” toll on mental health.

In rural environments, pockets of poor communities are often hidden from national statistics.

Marginalised groups and those struggling with gender identity may struggle to find support.

The remote nature of agricultural life and the stresses of running a farm are also a contributing factor.

Mr Hudson focussed-in on the issue of suicide in the veterinary profession, he said: “I declare an interest as a veterinary surgeon that our profession sadly is over-represented in terms of mental health issues but also sadly with instances of suicide.

“I also declare an interest that in my previous life before coming here was involved in research in that sort of area.

“Are the drivers of the higher-than-average suicide rates amongst those folk who are perhaps involved in the agriculture related professions, are they the same as what we discussed earlier today? Or are there additional factors involved?”

Dr Rebecca Wheeler, senior research fellow at the Centre for Rural Policy Research said: “All of those things we’ve been talking about feed into it but research has shown that knowing someone that has tried to kill themselves is a factor contributing to, your more likely to go through with it.

“Since there is a high prevalence of suicide in agriculture, that’s obviously an issue.”

“Access to means and knowing how to use them, easy access to fire arms, poisons of various sorts, that’s true for both vets and farmers.

“Those additional factors just add on to all those other stresses we’ve talked about.”