We fear that suicides in rural communities across the UK will rise due to the cost-of-living crisis.

Speaking after our Rural Cost of Living Roundtable discussion on 6 September, which saw academics, farming charities, businesses, and counselling services from across the UK discuss the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on mental health in rural communities, our CEO Anna Daroy, BACP CEO said:

“We know that the cost-of-living crisis will have a profoundly damaging and long-lasting effect on the mental health of farmers and those living in rural communities who already experience a unique set of challenging circumstances, unless the government acts now and invests more in counselling and psychotherapy support.

“Even before the cost-of-living crisis, male farm workers are three times more likely to take their own lives than the male national average, and every week three people in the UK farming and agricultural industry die by suicide.[1]  Worryingly, we expect these figures to rise as the cost-of-living crisis exacerbates the longstanding challenges farmers already face – including higher living costs, known as the rural premium, increased rates of loneliness, and isolation.

Dedicated mental health support

“The discussions we had at the event, together with emerging data, show that rural communities are facing some extremely complex issues but one solution to help these hardest hit communities is for the government to provide dedicated mental health support.

“We believe that the government’s current support package for rural communities is not enough – much more is needed to recognise the on-going impacts of the cost-of-living crisis alongside other factors such as COVID-19, Brexit, the war in Ukraine, farm succession, and labour shortages. We’re committed to increasing access to psychological therapies for those from isolated and marginalised groups and playing a leading role in this agenda.”

Adversely affected

Our fears about the impact on rural suicide rates stem from a string of data about how rural communities are being adversely affected by the cost-of-living crisis. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Business found that the average wage in rural areas is 7.5% lower than the urban equivalent.

At the same time, the costs of living in rural is significantly higher than in urban areas across the whole of the UK- for example rural households in 2022 spent almost £800 a year more on fuel than those in urban areas.

Series of roundtables

Our Rural Cost of Living Roundtable event was the first in a series of roundtable events to help BACP understand the impact the cost-of-living crisis on mental health on already vulnerable communities. Information from these events will be used to gather evidence and insight to produce a broader report about the recommendations and implications for the cost-of-living crisis for at risk groups. The report will be launched next year.

Speaking at the event, Dr Jude McCann, CEO of Farming Community Network (FCN) - a charity that provides support to over 6,000 farmers and their families each year, said: “Counselling and other forms of support are vital in rural communities, but it’s not always an easy task to get farmers to talk. In FCN we are here to listen, support and connect and sometimes we connect through to professional counselling.  

Need to normalise help seeking behaviour

“On many farms the kitchen table is often the office, and many find it hard to switch off. There are so many factors outside of their control and quite often it isn’t just one issue that affects their health and wellbeing. Farmers are sometimes proud people and often assume that others need support more than them. We need to normalise help seeking behaviour – everyone of us will need help and support at some stage in our lives.”

Nathan Shearman, Director and Clinical Lead for Care Coins – a specialist mental health service, added: “People in rural communities are fantastic at looking after each other, but the problem is that the government leave them to get on with it when they might need professional help. Quite often people in rural communities face barriers to access mental health support, including a lack of public transport, but when these barriers are removed, we know that people will access help and support. We’ve seen people coming forward in their 60s, 70s, and 80s to talk. Counselling and therapy are great, and we need to make sure everyone has access to it.”

[1] https://www.zerosuicidealliance.com/stories/news/sowing-seeds-care