A digital bank supported the recent Farmstrong Roadshows, a wellbeing programme that aims to get farmers talking about their mental resilience and make protecting it a priority.

Virgin Money has now announced that its first commitment is to enrol all of its client-facing agricultural banking team into the recently launched first aid mental health training provided by RSABI.

In doing so, this will allow every member of this specialist team to better understand what to look out for when they are talking to their farming customers and how they can adapt their approach.

Farming has always been one of the more isolated occupations. As pressures on farmers reach new levels, Brian Richardson, Virgin Money’s UK head of agriculture, believes that the bank has a key role to play within the farming and rural community.

He says: “The fact is it’s OK not to be OK. Good mental health is just as important to a farmer as physical health, and as professionals working within the agricultural sector it’s incumbent on us to have a greater understanding of mental health and wellbeing.

"Better awareness and understanding drives better conversations, particularly when we are seeing subtle changes in behaviour, and it allows us to improve engagement with other representative organisations that support our industry.

"When your mental health is good you make better decisions, you’re more productive, more positive and better able to solve problems. Life is better for you and your family.

“We are lucky to work with farmers every day and it’s important our team is well-prepared to support them. That’s why we have committed to providing first aid mental health training for all our customer-facing agricultural banking team.”

Currently, everything seems to be conspiring to pile more pressure on farmers in the UK. For some time now farming has been changing in ways that increase the isolation, particularly of smaller farmers who now work very much alone.

Brian Richardson, UK Head of Agriculture for Virgin Money

Brian Richardson, UK Head of Agriculture for Virgin Money

Mechanisation and pressures on profitability have reduced employment on farms, while Covid dramatically restricted what social contact farmers could enjoy and has driven much social and business contact online. The current changes in Government focus and financial support are also clouding the future of farming in uncertainty.

The training is being delivered in a new partnership between RSABI and IED Training Solutions Ltd, an award-winning consultancy founded by former Royal Marines.

Chris McVey, RSABI welfare manager, explained the ground-breaking Mental Health First Aid training is aimed at encouraging people to talk more freely about mental health, reducing stigma and improving understanding about what to look out for and how to respond when someone may be struggling.

Mr McVey said RSABI was looking forward to welcoming the Virgin Money team to take part in the training which offers the opportunity for participants to gain certification in the SCQF Level 5 Award in First Aid for Mental Health

“The aim is to provide individuals with the knowledge to recognise a range of mental health conditions and will help participants to know how to respond if they suspect someone is struggling. The training includes developing the skills to start a supportive conversation and to be able to direct people to appropriate professional help.”

In its latest annual Mind Your Head campaign, the Farm Safety Foundation reports research showing that “levels of mental health in farming are deteriorating,” and highlights the Office of National Statistics figures of 36 farming suicides last year.

Most self-sufficient farmers in that age group are reluctant to accept that this raft of increasing pressure could affect their mental well-being. Farmers will complain about the cost of fertiliser or lamb prices until the cows come home, but talking about anxiety or depression still carries the stigma of weakness.

But younger farmers may be leading the way in recognising and dealing with the problem. The Farm Safety Foundation refers to a survey of more than 900 farmers that found 94 per cent of the UK’s young farmers believe mental health is one of the greatest, and most hidden, challenges facing the industry – a figure that has risen from 84 per cent in 2019.

Brian said: “Accepting that they need help is still a huge barrier for older farmers. We need everyone who serves this industry to better understand the signs and be able to signpost people to the organisations who can support them properly.

“Our mission as a bank is to help our farming clients continue to develop sustainable, successful businesses. Over the years we have developed long term relationships with hundreds of farming families, and as members of the farming community ourselves, we feel we can and should play a part in tackling this fundamental problem for the sake of the farmers and their families and for the future of the industry.”

For advice on mental wellbeing in farming, click here