Ex-farm worker, 23, reveals mental health problems as industry tackles its 'biggest problem'

Fields in Newbourne Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Younger farmers are facing up to the mental health issues associated with the job - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

All his life, Daniel Goodwin dreamed of working on a farm. His great grandfather had worked on a big estate near Newmarket and that was his inspiration.

He loved the farming life - but he wasn't prepared for the crushing mental toll it would take on him.

"I'm a very social person," he says. "I'm a person who can't sit inside so I'm literally always busy, busy, busy."

Daniel Goodwin of Bury St Edmunds

Daniel Goodwin of Bury St Edmunds who is an ambassador for the Farm Safety Foundation's Mind Your Head campaign - Credit: Daniel Goodwin

Once he got into the industry, he found the long hours, isolation and loneliness tough - and he didn't know which organisation he could turn to to get help. 

Eventually, it would lead him to feel suicidal - and he quit.

He now works in a far more sociable job in a Greene King pub, in Bury St Edmunds, and says the company has been great.

The coronavirus crisis means he's furloughed, but he likes to keep busy and active and has a side job working with eventing horses.

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"I'm now 23. I was working on farms voluntarily from the age of 14.

"From the minute I left school I went straight into working on a small family farm. It all connected very, very nicely," explains Daniel, now 23, and an ambassador for the Farm Safety Foundation's Mind Your Head campaign.

"I was able to put my knowledge from the college into the workplace."

The industry faces great challenges in mental health - and the issue remains a largely hidden problem.

But a new generation of young people like Daniel are becoming far more open and honest about the problems they experience, and dragging them firmly into the spotlight.

The Farm Safety Foundation cites Office for National Statistics figures which show that 133 people involved in farming and agriculture-related trades took their own lives in 2019.

And the farm charity's own recent study shows that a massive 88% of farmers under the age of 40 rank poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today.

Encouragingly, a very healthy 89% of young farmers believe talking about mental health in farming will remove any stigma attached to it.

This year's Mind Your Head campaign is focusing on prevention and early identification of the risk factors associated with those working in the industry.

Farm Safety Foundation boss Stephanie Berkeley says the key is to encourage people within the industry to recognise the impact the job can have on people's wellbeing and how poor mental health can have a "direct and deadly impact" on the job.

"Given the year we have just experienced, making sure we are all looking after our physical and mental wellbeing has never been more relevant," she says.

“Humans are social animals. We not only enjoy each other’s company, but we also thrive on it.

"Digital solutions have tremendous value, however we must not underestimate the value of talking through our problems.

"It sounds non-technical, and therefore old-fashioned, but getting farmers to open up is the very first step to building a holistic approach to mental health in the industry."

After leaving school, Daniel went to work on a small family farm in west Suffolk.

He studied agriculture at Easton College, in Norwich, for one day a week, as he got a grounding in the diverse skillset he needed to work in the arable operations which became his home over the next four years.

He first started to feel things slipping after his employers went on holiday leaving him in charge of various jobs on the farm and he became very ill after suffering a small bleed on the brain.

"While they were away, my mental health started kicking in - I knew something wasn't right," he says.

But he didn't know who to turn to. At that point, he wasn't aware of the organisations out there that could help him.

He changed jobs and moved first to a farm near Lakenheath, then to a big farm on the Fens.

"We were a small team of workers so I was working with people which was what I wanted, but it got to the point where I literally couldn't take any more problems in - my brain was literally going to explode," he recalls.

Eventually, he did get help - and the treatment he needed.

Life is very different now, and in his ambassador role he visits his old college, shares his experiences and makes sure youngsters in the sector know where they can go to get help when they are feeling low - as well as showing those around them how they can read the signs when their friend is suffering.

"Just a quick call goes a long way," he points out.

"Every farm I worked on there were times where I wanted to take my own life," he adds. "It was just the loneliness, the stress, the pressure. It just got too much and I wanted to get rid of it."

He's come a long way since then and when he announced his decision to quit farming on social media, a torrent of well-wishers - young and old - contacted him and shared their own experiences with mental health.

"I had to make the most hard decision of my life to leave my dream job of farming and just take a step back," he says.

For more information on the campaign or to learn more about how the Farm Safety Foundation and partners are tackling the issue of poor mental health in the industry visit here.

You can also contact farm charity YANA (You Are Not Alone). Call the helpline 0300 323 0400 for confidential support or email helpline@yanahelp.org.