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    MPs' positive suggestions on rural mental health deserve stronger support, academic believes

    Posted 20 November 2023

    The Harper Adams main building from the air

    Positive recommendations for boosting rural mental health made by MPs investigating the issue deserve stronger support from the Government, a Harper Adams academic believes.

    Dr Kreseda Smith, a Rural Criminologist and Harper Adams Lecturer, was among academics who supplied evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee which was included in their report on Rural Mental Health.

    When the full report was published earlier this year, it cited Dr Smith’s written evidence a number of times, including her concerns that while some short term support was mental health support was available after unprecedented shocks such as flooding, communities often lacked the same help with regularly occurring events such as herd culls or crop failure.

    The UK Government provide a response to Select Committee reports by convention, and their response to the Rural Mental Health report was published earlier this month – but met with criticism from the Committee.

    In its response, the Government made clear it has no plans to act on series of recommendations made by MPs serving on the committee, and that ‘existing channels’ could be used to meet other suggestions.

    The response was criticised by the Chair of the Committee, Conservative MP Sir Robert Goodwill, who said: “Our committee was hopeful that the Government would recognise the distinct needs and circumstances of the rural population and would follow our carefully considered recommendations to support and protect them.

    “While we recognise that the Government has taken measures to support the mental health of the general population, we are disappointed by its rejection of measures to support the specific and identifiable mental health needs of those who live in rural areas.  

    “This was an opportunity to make significant changes which could greatly impact our rural communities.

    “With this response the Government demonstrates a worrying degree of complacency on the issue and so will fail to confront the significant problem of improving rural mental health.” 

    Having reviewed the Government’s response, Dr Smith made clear she shares Sir Robert’s views.

    She added: “I was very disappointed in the clear lack of understanding that the Government seem to display in relation to the specific issues faced by rural communities, and those working in rural areas, particularly farm workers and veterinary professionals.

    “Despite an extensive review of the evidence relating to the factors that impact rural mental health, from climate change to crime, isolation to poor infrastructure, and poverty to low levels of help-seeking, the Government has chosen not to act on any of the recommendations made by the Committee, insisting that the responses currently in place to tackle mental health are sufficient.

    “And despite the detailed exploration of the issues surrounding rural mental health conducted by the EFRA Committee, the response from Government illustrates the serious lack of understanding of rural and farming communities, as well as the veterinary professionals who are so integral to the rural environment.

    “There continues to be a perception of rural life being idyllic, but this is a fiction for many of those living and working in these areas, and without the Government having a clear and significant understanding of the specific issues affecting rural mental health, I fear that the Suicide Prevention Strategy for England will fail to deliver for these communities.

    “One has to wonder how the UK can hope to be food secure when rural and farming communities continue to be treated as second class citizens by the Government.

    “This approach is leading to increasing numbers of farmers, farm workers, and veterinary professionals leaving their respective sectors partly due to the impact their work has on their own mental health.”

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