Ireland’s dairy sector driving new rural mental health campaign with Samaritans

The new partnership with milk processors – who are all members of the Ibec group Dairy Industry Ireland (DII) – aims to raise awareness of Samaritans freephone number 116 123 among farmers and other people in rural Ireland, especially those living or working in isolation.

The signs will appear on approximately 500 milk trucks and agri-feed vehicles owned by some of the country’s largest co-operatives. It is supported by Arrabawn, Aurivo, Carbery (including Drinagh, Bandon, Lisavard and Barryroe co-ops), Dairygold, Glanbia, Kerry, Lakeland, North Cork, Ornua (Kerrygold), and Tipperary.

Conor Ryan, DII Chair and Chief Executive of Arrabawn Co-Op, said: “The members of DII are delighted to support Samaritans and spread the message that help is there for anyone who is struggling to cope.

“Our vehicles travel more than 50 million kilometres across the country every year, especially over the summer months, visiting some of the most rural areas in Ireland. If even one person who sees a sign makes a call for help, we know we will have made a difference.”

The campaign was launched at Peter and Paula Hynes’ dairy farm in Aherla, Co Cork, by Martin Heydon, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility Farm Safety.

Minister of State Martin Heydon and dairy farmer Peter Hynes at the launch of a mental health campaign between Ireland’s milk co-operatives and Samaritans.

Minister of State Martin Heydon and dairy farmer Peter Hynes at the launch of a mental health campaign between Ireland’s milk co-operatives and Samaritans. Credit: Clare Keogh

Minister Heydon said: “Farmers are exposed to a lot of work pressures and often find themselves working long hours alone. This can lead to isolation and mental health issues which is a real concern for so many people living in rural Ireland.

“I am determined to see a greater focus on farmer mental health and wellbeing given the inextricably link with farm safety. This initiative could make a real difference in reaching those who need support most and I want to commend the leadership shown by all those involved.”

Peter Hynes has openly spoke about his own mental health struggles and founded AgMentalHealthWeek with Paula to show others in rural areas that support is available.

“Farming is a demanding and tough occupation for some. Ensuring we highlight the importance of reaching out for support in times of crisis is crucial and the greatest way to reduce stigma around mental health and suicide is through a united voice,” he said.

“The scale of this message and collaboration between Samaritans Ireland and the Irish dairy industry is truly inspiring, ensuring rural Ireland know there is always someone willing to listen.”

Samaritans’ volunteers across Ireland answer over half a million calls for help every year.

Samaritans Deputy Regional Director, Aileen Spitere, said the initiative will target those hard-to-reach groups who are often most at risk of loneliness and isolation, may have family, work or financial worries, have mental health problems, or feel suicidal.

“We are delighted to have the support of the dairy co-operatives for this campaign, not just to reach dairy farmers, but anyone living, working or driving in rural areas who may see our helpline number on a vehicle,” said Aileen, a volunteer in Samaritans Cork branch.

“We want people to know that Samaritans is here for anyone struggling to cope, no matter who you are or where you are, on freephone 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie.

“Mental health challenges and suicide are complex, going beyond simply where you live or what profession you are in, but these can also be factors. The increased risk factors for those living in rural and agricultural settings such as poor access to services, isolation and persistent loneliness mean it’s essential for us to do more to reach people in these environments.”

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