Barclays National Head of Agriculture, Mark Suthern, spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme about why the bank is rolling out specialised mental health training for all 150 Business Bank agricultural managers across the UK.
Mark Suthern told the daily BBC programme about the challenges of mental health in the farming industry, and how his team will learn to identify early warning signs exhibited by clients and be able to provide practical support and assistance when it’s most needed.
“It’s so relevant at the moment,” he said. “When I’m out talking to farmers, and particularly young farmers, they’re really mindful about the impact [of mental health] on agriculture as a sector. Because of its loneliness, isolation and long hours: mental health and well-being is becoming one of the biggest problems facing the sector.”
Suthern has worked for Barclays for over 30 years and is also chair of the charity The Farming Community Network, which strives to provide pastoral and practical support to farming families through difficult times.
On Barclays’ new initiative, he told Farming Today: “It’s about the language that people use in emails or in telephone messages, and it’s about being alert to those initial signs of stress and uncertainty, and then having the ability to do a number of things – to be there to listen, and to understand, and to hear what the farmers are saying, but then to also be able to signpost to the right support agencies, and I think that’s the part that’s so important.”
The suicide rate among farmers is almost twice the national average, and Suthern believes that everyone in the agriculture sector has a collective responsibility to care for one another and reduce the stigma of problems with mental health. “This is not an easy sector,” he says, “and those who work in it, you really have to admire their fortitude.”