FARMERS struggling to cope with mental health issues and the pressures of modern-day agriculture should not hesitate in seeking help and talking to people about their problems.

That is the message from Emma Picton-Jones, who in 2016 set up the Pembrokeshire-based DPJ Foundation to support people in rural communities with poor mental health, especially men in the agricultural sector.

Agriculture carries one of the highest rates of suicide and with mental health being such a big problem across society, the foundation aims to break down the stigma that surrounds mental health and provide support services for those in rural communities.

In recent weeks, the Tivyside has reported on several court cases where farmers have appeared in court charged with animal cruelty and neglect.

In one case, the court was told that 85 cattle had been neglected and left to die on a Ceredigion farm in what magistrates described as ‘horrendous conditions’.

The animals in question were worth tens of thousands of pounds yet the farmer involved simply could not cope.

“There is support out there and it is becoming more acceptable for farmers to talk about mental health,” said Emma.

“It is hugely isolated and very traditional and farmers are a proud bunch.

“More often than not, farms have been in a family for generations, we have more technology than ever before to help and so to admit you are struggling to cope can be a very difficult thing to do and can lead to further isolation. Problems can just escalate from there.

“It is that cycle we are looking to break and to get people to talk and seek help.

“If you look at people outside the farming sector facing mental health issues, the first thing that tends to suffer is their work or relationships. With farmers, it is going to have a big impact on their animals and the way the farm is being run and looked after.

“When people are suffering with mental health problems, they do not have the capacity to deal with these things.

“But the hope is to intervene before it reaches this situation. People who visit farms such as agricultural reps, rural policing teams, vets etc, if they can spot signs that things are not right they can point people in the right direction to get support before it gets any worse.

“Farmers do not want to cause suffering or harm to their animals but it is difficult to look after yourself when suffering with mental health problems let alone everything else going on around you. To have 150 animals in your care can simply add to the pressure and stress.”

Ceredigion Council is responsible for ensuring animal welfare and says it looks to intervene early and signpost farmers to organisations such as the DPJ Foundation to seek help.

A spokesman said: “Unfortunately, it is the case that Ceredigion County Council staff have experienced an increase in the instances of serious animal health cases in the county during 2018/19.

“We don’t know at this stage whether this is a temporary trend or whether it’s a long term trend. We believe it is more likely that it has been an exceptional year, which hopefully will not be repeated. However, we remain vigilant and will intervene as soon as we become aware of such cases.

“The main cause is of neglect in meeting the basic needs of their animals, but the underlying reasons for the neglect is complex with a number of different factors involved.

“Certainly, it has dire consequences for the individuals, as the death of each animal results in a significant direct financial loss, notwithstanding the consequences of prosecution.

“Whenever our Animal Health Officers become involved in such cases we provide strong advice and also provide contact information in respect of the charities and services that provide advice and assistance to farmers who may be experiencing difficulties.

“There are over two and a half thousand farms in Ceredigion and it is not possible for our staff to inspect each one, the great majority of which have extremely high standards.

“Our Animal Health Officers have to work within the financial constraints faced by every council, but we do concentrate our resources on visiting the minority of farms that are brought to our attention.”