Wellbeing of Farmers: Physical Wellbeing, Mental Wellbeing, Social Wellbeing
Key Challenges: Lack of basic services, Lack or difficulties in accessing health services, Lack of specialist mental healthcare services, Low farm income (market vulnerability), Administrative burden, Lack of generational renewal on farm, External factors (whether, climate change, etc.)
Key Target Groups: Young farmers, Female farmers, Older farmers
Farm Size: Small/Family, Medium
Find Out More
Key contact: Vivre Hindstrom, Arja Peltomaki
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Organization: Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK) • Farmers´ Social Insurance Institution (Mela)
Farmers in Finland face number of challenges such as economic difficulties, increasing workload, extreme weather conditions as well as various crises in their private life. These challenges significantly increase mental stress and can lead to severe consequences. Farmers often feel uncomfortable or shame when for asking for help, as well as uncertain about where to get help, which can hinder to act on time. In Finland there are different organisations responsible for peoples’ mental wellbeing. In addition to National Health Services, Occupational Health Services (OHS) are well organised and provide services also for farmers’ mental problems. OHS is compulsory for all employees, but voluntary for self-employed entrepreneurs, and therefore covers only 30% of all farmers. A rural support network of voluntary workers offers peer support. In troublesome situations they can also go to the farm and temporarily help with everyday work.
In addition to these, number of closely related projects have been implemented to help farmers to seek and receive appropriate help to reduce stress and improve mental, physical, and economic well-being. Extra Energy for the Farmers project ran in 2013-2015 and Extra Energy for the Farmers II project was launched in 2015 in Western Finland by the MTK-Satakunta, a provincial union of The Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK) and in 2016 expanded to neighbouring province Pirkanmaa. In 2017 similar projects emerged and covered the rest of the country, including provincial projects coordinated by provincial MTK unions of the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners associations´ (MTK) and the ‘Support the Farmer’ project coordinated by the Farmers´ Social Insurance Institution (Mela). The Extra Energy for the Farmers to Change – a continuation of the ‘Extra Energy for the Farmers II’ project – started in 2019 and will be finished in the spring of 2022.
The objectives and the methods of these projects have been similar. The projects offer personal assistance to farmers in need, as well as organise and activate a network of support organisations and offer various support services. Networking, cooperation and continuity have been the cornerstones of the projects’ success. As a result, the initiatives have made significant improvements in the mental and physical well-being of farmers
The key function of the projects is to help farmers under severe economic or mental pressure, to get their situation under control and reducing risk of losing their workability.
All projects have the same main objective to ensure that issues affecting farmers are tackled at a sufficiently early stage before they become problems. It also aimed at encouraging farmers and their stakeholders to find new ways to seek help by themselves.
The main strengths of all these initiatives are promoting co-operation between different types of helpers and other organisations close to the farmer, to get help on time.
The main activity of all three projects is personal help and assistance to farmers:
• an overview of the situation and a continuation plan
• support for change or other transition preparations: generational change, other changes in ownership, future investments, changes in production and divestments. The special attention is on young farmers.
• if necessary, the project worker will help with taking contact with different authorities, health services and getting assistance.
In case the help of the project worker is not sufficient, the farmer can get a voucher worth 500 Euros to buy expert services (therapy, other mental support services or work supervision).
Other key activities of all projects were building and operating an extensive network of supporting organisations and communication on wellbeing issues. Mela established a permanent network for early intervention, that is now structured with contracts between Mela as network coordinator and partners that include farm stand-in worker services, insurance companies, farmers’ unions, authorities, advisory organizations, occupational health services etc.
All the projects includes education of co-operation partners to make observations about early symptoms of burnout, bring up their observations with the farmer and assist the farmer to get help with the problems. Mela organises regional meetings and seminars for this network.
Project workers take a holistic approach: they need to be aware of how a farm works as well as how to recognise and handle mental health problems. The network is there not only for the farmers, but also for the project workers, who are facing with many different and difficult issues. Work supervision is also available for the project workers to improve their skills.
Important activity of the projects is organising wellbeing events for farmers such as Farmers’ Wellbeing Days as well as creating a Farmers’ Well-being ABC and group trainings organised all over Finland covering the subjects such as relationships and interactions; life and stress management; where to find help for improving wellbeing. Farmers´ Well-being ABC is based on Mental Health First Aid 1 -course by MIELI Mental Health Finland association.
Main Outcome of the activity
New studies show that mental stress among farmers is getting lower in general. In 2017, 24.6% of the farmers reported medium or high level of mental stress (Work wellbeing indicator 2017, 2019 and 2021, Datalaari. Kantar TNS Agri 2021). In 2021, this percentage has decreased to 15.9%. Mental symptoms like tiredness and weakness have decreased from 47% to 39%. Irritability and angriness decreased from 41% to 31%. Since these projects have been the main instruments in Finland to improve the wellbeing of farmers, it is very likely that at least part of these improvements can be attributed to the services provided by these projects.
Extra Energy for the Farmers I & II and Extra Energy for the Farmers to Changes project outcomes include:
• In total, the projects have helped personally over 1000 people in 600 farms (almost 20% of farms) through three projects 2013-2021;
• Over 8 years the projects have been involved with nearly 600 events, with over 16 000 participants;
• The co-operation network in the Extra Energy for Farmers to Changes project covers over 150 different organizations with more than 500 people
Support the Farmer Project outcomes include:
• In total, the project has helped 2600 persons on over 1500 farms (2017-2021);
• During the same period 3500 vouchers have been issued for expert services;
• Mela’s permanent network for early intervention, based on written contracts, includes 110 nationwide and regional organisations;
• On a yearly basis around 100 events both for farmers and network partners;
• In a study by Saari (2019)* , 87% of the farmers were satisfied with the professional help obtained by vouchers, and three out of four felt that the assistance provided by regional project workers was sufficient in their situation. Younger farmers under the age of 40 in particular felt that they had received useful assistance from project workers.
• The results of the study are especially interesting in relation to the recent discussions on immediate access to therapy, as the project carried out a kind of short experiment in immediate access to therapy for one specific professional group. The results indicate that broader immediate access to therapy could be beneficial. Perceived work ability improved twice as much with those respondents who felt that they had received sufficient help from project workers or who felt that they had received sufficient help from expert services acquired with a voucher.
Main Practical Recommendations
Based on the positive results of the project, Mela has decided further strengthen the project’s holistic approach to support farmers’ work ability.
Mela initiated a pilot project testing a ‘work ability coordinator service in agriculture’. The goal of the service is to enable farmers, who are at risk of losing their work ability, to remain employed. The work ability coordinator works together with farmers finding alternatives, tools, methods, benefits and services that can assist with the farmer’s needs. Project workers completed a training by the Rehabilitation Foundation. The training gave them even wider knowledge of support services of the Finnish society in general, which completed their in-depth knowledge of networks and services targeted for farmers.
Based on the Finnish experience, a holistic approach and individually tailored tools and services are highly recommended to support farmers’ ability to work. Immediate access to therapy could be beneficial to support farmers at an early stage.
Key Stakeholders Involved
• project workers
• support organisations
Most Innovative Aspects of the Solution
The Finish practice is unique in Europe. Its innovativeness lies in the fact that it has been able to operate a well-functioning, structured and coordinated practice across projects, provinces, and organisations. The most innovative feature of this practice is cooperation and networking. As a result, the knowledge and capacity of more than 150 support organisations with different profiles is channelled into the work of helping farmers.