One farming suicide every week and pupils sent home with stress
Children of farmers are being sent home from school because they are showing signs of stress, the Assembly has been told.
It is an illustration of intensifying pressures on farmers and their families as statistics produced for Stormont's agriculture committee show one suicide in the farming community every week.
Sinn Fein's Oliver McMullan said the stories of children being taken out of school "because the stress was showing on them" was "horrendous".
"It was only a small number of cases and it came after the big snow last year, but people did not want to talk about it at the time," he said.
"The children had gone without heat in their homes and when they went back to school they were in a shocking state altogether. They were traumatised by what was happening in the home with the loss of livestock and the problems their parents were under.
"In the rural countryside, there is a perception that the farming life is an idyllic lifestyle, (being) outside and at one with nature. But that can sometimes be far from the truth."
Mr McMullan's comments followed an Assembly debate in which Health Minister Edwin Poots was urged to ensure that initiatives aimed at tackling mental health are reaching the farming community.
"We need to know how the trusts are going to get out into the community to reach out to the farmers and their families," Mr McMullan added.
Apart from the impact of the record snowfall last March and loss of livestock, they have also been hit with a drop in farm incomes, rises in fuel, feed and general overhead costs while banks tighten their lending and overdraft facilities – along with the isolation and long working hours which come with the job.
But farmers are among those least likely to seek help – in part because there is still a stigma around mental illness.
The DUP's Paul Frew, chair of the agriculture committee, added: "It is as if there is a sense of shame. In all walks of life and in different periods of life, we all need help and assistance. Farmers should know that they should seek help and receive it."
Mr Poots said: "We need to drive home the message that it is okay to tell others that you are not okay. The bottom line is that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength."
"My brother committed suicide. Kenneth did not want to die, he just did not know how to go on living."
Sister of rural suicide victim
"I often work alone for long hours without speaking to anyone. I don't get the chance to share problems."
One farmer, speaking to the Samaritans, reported to the Assembly by Ulster Unionist Joanne Dobson.
"Of particular importance is that the Health and the Department of Agriculture work together to improve the health and well-being of rural populations."
Health Minister Edwin Poots