Emma Roskilly, a 29-year-old dairy farmer near St Gluvias, Penryn, discusses her experiences with social isolation, livestock disease, relationship issues and plans for the future – factors which Stephen Dennis, regional director for The Farming Community Network (FCN) believes have a damaging impact on farmers mental health, and it’s only going to get worse.

Some of Cornwall’s most iconic rural scenes feature cattle grazing, but many of the family-run farms behind this are suffering from mental health issues.

Poor mental health is a wildly discussed topic. However, a worrying trend is on the rise. There seems to be a gap in support for farmers, especially in isolated rural areas in Cornwall.

This is an issue that Stephen Dennis, regional director for The Farming Community Network (FCN), knows all too well.

The FCN is a voluntary organisation and charity with the vision of illustrating how farmers can work with farmers. Mr Dennis and his team of volunteers are aware of the increasing lonely nature of agriculturalists which leave rural communities exposed to a mounting mental health crisis.

FCN have relentlessly sought to reach out across the farm gate and raise the profile of this issue.

However, Mr Dennis admits there is much more work to be done to reach farmers.

“We (FCN) are always challenged by the fact that does everyone know that we’re there? And I don’t think that is the case. How we (FCN) improve is something that we (FCN) are constantly looking at as we (FCN) realises that we (FCN) haven’t got everyone covered,” Mr Dennis explains.

“With the isolation factor of farming, information isn’t always easily gained because people live in the environment of their farms and don’t get out much and they don’t see people much.

"This is one of the problems that we are trying to break and make more people aware that we are there to talk to.”

Despite FCN’s relentless efforts to raise their profile, Emma Roskilly, a 29-year-old dairy farmer from Penryn, is amongst those who are still unaware of the amount of support and help that is out there.

During the winter months, as the days grow darker and shorter and the weather gets colder and wetter, many people can relate to feeling a bit less bouncy. But for farmers, who spend long, hard hours in isolation on their farms with little to no separation from their work-life, are particularly vulnerable to losing the spring in their step. Especially for Emma who, like many other farmers, is starting to hear the black dog growling more and more.

Emma manages a 10-unit exit parlour where she milks 80 cattle twice a day. Her family-run farm has a total of 240 cattle spread across 400 acres but as she explains, the remaining 160 cows are either “followers or on holiday from milking” as many of them are pregnant or have reached a certain age where they don’t produce enough milk anymore.

However, in 2014, the farm had two years-worth of their calves which brought their total count to around 400 cattle. This all changed when Emma and her family were dealt a devastating blow when a small number of their cattle reacted positively at their routine bTB test.

Since then, Emma and her family found themselves trapped in a continuous downward spiral of losing a fragment of their herd, little by little, from the disease that has no cure – bTB.

The farm has lost a total of 125 cattle in just the past two years. Time and time again, test after test, over the years Emma has watched her cattle dwindle in numbers due to bTB.

Now, after the herd’s latest routine bTB test, the dairy farm has yet again been hit with tragedy after a further 20 cows reacted positively to the disease. Emma and her family face the prospect of losing the entirety of their herd and business as the outbreak seems not to be slowing down.

On the the farm, Emma reflects on what her family legacy might be in the aftermath of the heartbreak caused from this disease that wrecks farms and farmers’ lives.

She also gives an insight into the other realities and hardships of being a farmer and the impact it has on people mentally.

The results of the test are fresh in Emma’s mind as earlier this day, herself and her family groomed the 20 cows infected with bTB in preparation for the slaughterhouse. She says: “It’s when it comes to milking time when it really hits you because they aren’t there anymore.

"It’s so raw because it’s not long between each time. So, every time we get over the last lot. It’s not long before the next lot come. It makes you hard towards it. You try and forget that you have another test coming.

"And then you try and think positively that it’s going to be alright this time, that it will be fine, we’ll get through it.”

Farmers tend to go into shutdown when it comes to their mental health.

Despite being renowned for their around-the-clock care for their livestock to ensure their well-being is maintained, they fail to pay attention to their own.

When I ask Emma why she thinks farmers don’t talk about their stresses and the challenges they are facing, she becomes emotional and says: “Talking about it makes it real.

"We (farmers) should talk about it, rather than bottle it up, but that’s the type of people that we (farmers) are. We (farmers) just get quiet. Sometimes you feel embarrassed about it, that you’ve got that problem. I don’t like talking about it because I don’t want other people to think we are a dirty farm.”

To the same question, Mr Dennis says: “I think that some farmers have got in to this tradition of pretending that it’s not affecting them when it is and carrying on with life

but actually deep down, they know they aren’t happy with life, they aren’t happy with their situation.

"But farmers are very proud people, they are notorious for not going to the doctor even if their arm is hanging off. Doctors are well aware, certainly in the rural community, that if a farmer comes in, there is something seriously up.”

But, for Emma, it’s not just livestock disease that affects her mentally, the life of a farmer has also put a strain on her relationship with her family and partner.

“It’s difficult to have a relationship with your family when you work with them. I try and keep it that I work with them more than anything, rather than have a relationship with them otherwise it becomes too much at times.

“My partner is self-employed so he can finish work whenever he wants which puts stress on me because I am always working late or up early. It’s gotten to the point where we don’t even sleep in the same bed anymore because we have two completely different alarms and it just drives us both nuts.

“Farming is stressful. It does put stress on you. Like something could happen like a cow gets stuck in the parlour and you are supposed be out at dinner and dance or supposed to be going out with your mates for a drink and you don’t get there because things happen. You can’t just say ‘oh I’ve clocked off now’, you’ve got to sort the problem because it’s your farm and your cows. You don’t switch off from it.”

Emma is a prime example of why a lot of the younger generation have left farming as they see their families consumed by farming and they don’t want that lifestyle. However, as Mr Dennis puts it to me, farmers are only tied to their farms if they chose to have that mentality.

“We’ve all grown up with different experiences, and it seems right to them and we’ve got to be able to respect that. There comes a point in time where not everybody has to live that life. You have to say who’s in control of who? Is the farmer in control of his farm or is his farm in control of him?”

Mr Dennis says: “If people can break away from that element of control and realise that the strongest way for the farm to survive is working as a team rather than as an individual then they’ll relieve themselves from the pressures because they will be sharing the pressure.”

When asked what advice he would give for farmers reading this story, Mr Dennis: “My advice to give them is that if there is anything repressing you, talk to an FCN volunteer who are likely to be farmers that are experienced with what you are going through.

“A lot of people lose themselves in their work and that’s not just farming but every aspect of life. Rather than spend time thinking about their problems, people will just make themselves busy but actually that’s not dealing with the problem, that’s escapism. We (FCN) are non-judgemental, just talk, we are there to listen. We walk with farmers as they seek to find an answer to some of their issues.”

FCN has a helpline that runs from 7am until 11pm on 03000 111 999 or if you are worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Stephen Dennis at srg.dennis@btinternet.com