The Minister of State with responsibility for Farm Safety at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Martin Heydon, will open the ‘Cultivating Mental Health Wellbeing in Rural Ireland conference’, which will be held in the Midlands Park Hotel, Portlaoise, on Monday, November 20 from 9:30 am-2:00 pm. DAFM is co-hosting the national conference to mark international men’s day, with the support of the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE). Minister Heydon said that ‘Cultivating Mental Health Wellbeing in Rural Ireland’ follows the expanded rollout of ‘On Feirm Ground’, which supports professionals working with farmers to engage them on the issue of mental wellbeing.
“Mental health wellbeing is a societal issue, but there is a unique set of circumstances in rural Ireland. With a strong line up of panellists including academics and mental health professionals, the conference will have a strong focus on supporting farmers, fisheries, and foresters in rural communities to cultivate positive action around mental wellbeing. The panel discussions will also include practical advice for any attendee concerned about a family member or friend,” he said.
Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, said that anyone can experience mental health challenges at any time during their lives: “Events such as these are an opportunity for us to encourage farmers and their communities to reach out and use the available supports. Farmers are a priority group under ‘Connecting for Life’, our national suicide reduction strategy, and there are a number of initiatives addressing challenges faced by this group.”
Minister Butler said that through the national office for suicide prevention, she had funded initiatives such as ‘An Feirm Ground’ and the ‘Dying to Farm’ research study, both of which examine the issues that this group face. “Through this and other initiatives, we can help foster psychological wellbeing. It is imperative that we do more to reduce stigma around mental health, especially in the farming community, and address wellbeing in rural communities,” she said.
Fergal Fox from the HSE said that HSE Health and Wellbeing was delighted to partner with this important event as part of its ongoing work with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine. “Reaching out to the farming workplaces and scaling up the engagement with farms on the topic of mental wellbeing specifically, allows us to address some of their needs and learn more from farmers themselves and those working in the agriculture industry,” Fox said.
Martin Heydon will open the conference at 10:00 am, and will chair a panel discussion called ‘Perspectives on mental health in the farming community’ at 10:15 am. The other speakers will be: Dr. Noel Richardson, director of healthCORE, South-Eastern Technical University; Dr. Anna Donnla O’Hagan, assistant professor in the School of Health and Human Performance at Dublin City University; Dr. David Meredith, Senior Research Officer, Teagasc and Peter Hynes, Cork dairy farmer and founder of Ag Mental Health Week.
From 11:45 – 12:45, session 2: ‘Promoting and supporting farmers’ health and wellbeing’ will get underway. A panel discussion chaired by Biddy O’Neill, national policy lead, health and wellbeing, Department of Health will include: Fergal Fox, head of stakeholder engagement and communications, HSE health and wellbeing, strategy and research, healthcare strategy; Eddie Mullins, CEO Merchants Quay Ireland and former governor of Mountjoy Prison; Josephine Rigney, suicide resource officer, HSE; John Keane, young farmer and former president of Macra and Finola Colgan, Mental Health Ireland, national lead on farming.
The closing address by Bill Callanan, chief inspector of DAFM will run from 12:45-1:00 pm. ‘Cultivating Mental Health Wellbeing in Rural Ireland’ will be streamed live for those who can’t attend in person.