A new short film featuring a Somerset farmer opening up about his experience of mental ill health has just launched.

The film, titled ‘The Hill Farmer’, highlights the vital role of support organisations and charities in helping farmers during challenging times and supporting mental health and wellbeing.

The film features Oliver Edwards, a well-known Exmoor farmer, telling his story of dealing with pressures on the farm at the same time as battling a diagnosis of colon cancer. This took an enormous toll on Oliver’s mental health, and he had suicidal thoughts.

Watch his moving film here: https://vimeo.com/507037867, or with subtitles here: https://vimeo.com/507036647

Initially Oliver found getting help difficult, as he shut himself off from others and didn’t want to burden those around him. Thankfully, his diagnosis served as a ‘wake-up call’, which motivated him to ask for help.

Oliver said: “I felt really down and couldn’t see any way out. I found it difficult to speak about what I was feeling. Those who aren't from a farming type of world can struggle to relate, as they don't know the same types of stresses that you might be under. I felt a bit foolish, and didn't think others would understand the problems I was facing.

“I'm usually seen as being the stable person and the rock who others come to for help. When you're in that role, it is hard to be the one to ask for help.

"If I'd spoken to somebody earlier about the stress of what I was going through, it could have really helped my mental state. I urge those watching to talk to somebody. Talk to a neighbour, a family member, or organisations like The Farming Community Network, RABI or the NFU. Someone will have been in a similar situation to you and will understand.”

The film has been produced by The Somerset Mental Health in Agriculture Group (SMHAG). SMHAG is group of individuals, from various rural organisations, with a common interest in raising awareness about mental health in agriculture.

The Farming Community Network (FCN), a charity and voluntary organisation with volunteers in England and Wales, has seen an increase in the percentage of calls to its Helpline (03000 111 999) over the past year that contain a mental health component, such as stress or anxiety.

SMHAG member Tod Merson, an FCN volunteer in Somerset, said: “Oliver’s story mirrors my own. When I experienced depression during my farming career, admitting it to anyone else was the hardest thing to do. It is also the essential first step on the path to recovery.”

The film was financed by The Bridgwater Agricultural Society (BAS), as part of its role in supporting farmers in Somerset. BAS director and Levels farmer James Winslade is also one of the founders of the national charity, Forage Aid.

James said: “My work helping other farmers through extreme weather crises has convinced me of the need for better support for mental health. My hope is that this film, and the training built around it, will make a contribution to this.”

SMHAG’s Chair, Becky Wright from New Leaf, runs mental health training courses throughout Somerset and the South West.

She said: “’The Hill Farmer’, as well as being a very powerful film, will make an ideal training tool. The issues that Oliver talks about are central to an understanding of how farmers see themselves. I am developing a course which uses the film to help train others in giving support to the farming community.”

Last month, a study by the Farm Safety Foundation revealed that 88% of farmers under the age of 40 rank poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today. However 89% of young farmers believe that talking about mental health in farming will remove any stigma attached to it.

Sedgemoor Auction Centre at Junction 24, North Petherton, near Bridgwater, runs the Derek Mead Health Room, which provides farmers with a “drop in” service to talk to a nurse about any health concerns. It is currently closed until COVID restrictions are lifted.