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    “You can push through” - Tom faces endurance challenge to highlight mental health in agriculture

    Posted 29 February

    “The physical challenges Tom will be facing are immense. Talking to him, though, he’s keen for people to recognise that whatever challenging times they are facing, there is help out there through organisations like FCN – and that’s what will be spurring him on.”

    A young farmer is undertaking a challenging feat of endurance later this year to highlight mental health issues in agriculture – and to remind the farming community of a simple but powerful message: “You can push through”.

    On June 30, Tom York, a volunteer with The Farming Community Network (FCN) and a student at Harper Adams University, will compete in a gruelling ‘Ultimate Triathlon.’

    The challenge, often referred to as an ‘Ironman’, comprises a 2.4-mile open water swim, a 122-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, and takes place in Ellesmere, Shropshire - with athletes expected to take 10-18 hours to reach the finish line.

    Tom talks openly about his own mental health challenges, as well as how his friendship group at Harper Adams University was devastated to lose one of their own to suicide.

    Having worked on farms and in the wider agricultural industry alongside his studies, he says he can understand how the ‘highest highs and the lowest lows’ experienced by the sector can take their toll on a person’s psychological wellbeing.

    BSc (Hons) Agri-business student Tom said: “If I’d realised how much help was available, I would have reached out much sooner, and now I want to encourage others to talk. I don’t want to dwell on the darkness, but the light that emerges from it.”

    Tom describes the triathlon event as a “canvas on which to paint a story of triumph over adversity”, with a narrative that drives home the positive message: “You can push through.”

    He believes the demanding nature of the triathlon mirrors the difficulties of coping with a period of poor mental health, and will use it to bring hope by demonstrating that with support and persistence, many challenges can be overcome.

    He describes such vital support as coming from many different areas - friends, family, workplaces and organisations, as well as charities such as FCN. 

    As a volunteer with FCN, he sees first-hand the pressures farmers are facing, and in his role with the charity he can reach out to help them.

    FCN is a voluntary organisation and charity that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people in farming and provide support at times of difficulty and change. The charity has more than 300 volunteers from across the agricultural sector.

    Tom – who serves as a Student Trustee at the Harper Adams Student Union - is also encouraged by the support shown to him by his employer and university.

    He is currently in his placement year at Wilson Wraight, Agricultural Management Consultants in Bury St. Edmunds.

    Susan Doogan, Business Manager at Wilson Wraight, said: “Within our office, we have mental health first aiders who support our team and clients. The fact that our very own Iron Man, Tom, is taking on this gruelling challenge to further raise awareness and funds for FCN is fantastic. We’re all incredibly proud of him, and the whole team wishes him the best of luck."

    Having led fundraising events at Harper Adams in the past to honour the friend he lost, Tom’s continued efforts are also applauded by his university community.

    Professor Ken Sloan, Vice-Chancellor at Harper Adams, said: “I’ve always been a keen follower of Tom’s charity work, and will be closely following his progress towards the Ironman challenge in support of FCN in June.

    “The physical challenges Tom will be facing are immense. Talking to him, though, he’s keen for people to recognise that whatever challenging times they are facing, there is help out there through organisations like FCN – and that’s what will be spurring him on.”

    Now in Week 12 of his six-month training plan, Tom regularly uploads videos to his social media channels to document his progress. He talks about the things he’s finding challenging, and the things that have gone well.

    To view Tom’s progress, visit FacebookInstagram, or Just Giving, where you can also make a donation.

    Help for Harper Adams students

    We all have mental health and we encourage our students to reach out if they are experiencing any difficulties.

    It’s important to look after our mental health just as we do our physical wellbeing. You may be a student at the start or end of your student journey, or somewhere in between, or a member of the wider university community. You may feel you can talk to friends, your course team, colleagues and or your GP but the important thing to remember is no problem is too small and it can help to talk things through.

     It is never too late to let someone know how you are feeling and asking for help. At University, specialist support can be offered via self-referral to the wellbeing team, by accessing the Student Assistance Programme or talking to one of the Mental Health First Aiders.

    Further details can be found here.

    Sometimes, online can be a good place to start to find out what other support is out there, and there is plenty: Samaritans 116 123 listening service 24/7

    Help for Harper Adams staff

    Harper Adams University works with Health Assured to provide an enhanced Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).

    The programme allows employees to directly access counselling, legal information and advice on debt, work, lifestyle addictions and relationships.

    Contact details are shared with employees every week through an internal newsletter. Employees also receive wellbeing support from line managers and our Chaplaincy, HR and Mental Health First Aid teams; in addition to occupational health services provided by Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust.

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