IN response to a rural mental health report, the government has stated the needs of rural communites 'do not require targeted action'.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA), a cross-party group of MPs, released a rural mental health report in May this year

The government responded to the report on Friday, November 3, stating that the exisiting provisions are 'suffient' to safeguard rural mental health. 

Despite the lack of action regarding the report, a spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said the government has provided an additional £2.3billion a year to 'expand and transform' mental health servies in England. 

The EFRA Committee’s report found that rural workers including farmers face particular stresses, including unpredictable weather and animal health crises, as well as changing and uncertain government policies which can affect their incomes as well as their mental health.

MPs expressed concerns about how isolation, poor public transport and a relative lack of digital connectivity have contributed to poor mental health outcomes for all categories of people across rural communities in England, but especially among farm workers and vets. 

Chair of the EFRA committee, Sir Robert Goodwill, 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.” 

According to EFRA, the government did not accept the committee's calls to establish a national working group on suicide prevention, specific to agricultural and veterinary professions. Instead, the government said that their the National Suicide Prevention Strategy, published in September, includes those living in rural areas. 

On the mental health of young people, the committee made a headline recommendation of ensuring that all schools and colleges in rural areas have MHSTs (Mental Health Support Teams), by 2026/27.

The Government says it is committed to delivering on its Green Paper on Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision. It states that MHSTs ‘will cover at least 50% of pupils in England by the end of the 2024 to 2025 financial year’. But EFRA state that it is unclear how many of these will be in rural areas.  

As well as this, the committee made a range of recommendations pertaining to mental health and crisis events, such as flooding. Although the government said there are no plans at the moment, Defra has said they recognise the need to ensure this support is provided. 

The EFRA committee's report reccommended that the Farm Resilience Fund prioritise providing mental health support. The government said the fund provides free business support and this is 'expected to have a positive indirect impact on farmer wellbeing'. 

A government spokesperson said: “Mental health awareness is an important issue for rural and farming communities across the country and we are firmly committed to supporting people in rural areas access the public services that they deserve.

“The government has provided an additional £2.3 billion a year to expand and transform mental health services across England. This is alongside the new National Suicide Prevention strategy, support through the Farming Resilience Fund and ongoing work with charities to link up farmers with the services they need.”