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“It’s like admitting you are a failure”: Male farmer mental health help-seeking limited by Masculinity and Identity

Irish male farmers experience some of the highest levels of adverse health outcomes relative to other occupations – particularly in relation to heart disease, cancers and mental health. Despite this, many farmers do not seek help until their illness reaches crisis point. A recently published Irish study throws new light on the socio-cultural environment that shapes male farmers’ health seeking behaviour.

The study “That’s Me I am the Farmer of the Land”: Exploring Identities, Masculinities, and Health Among Male Farmers’ in Ireland’ was conducted by a collaborative group from Teagasc, the National Centre for Men’s Health (NCMH)  at  Institute of  Technology, Carlow, and the Centre for Health Behaviour Research in Waterford Institute of Technology.

Lead author and Teagasc Walsh Scholar Conor Hammersley commented: “Many farmers view seeking help as an ‘admission of failure’ and a betrayal of a masculine image of themselves as men and farmers. They tend to prioritise farm work and the health of their animals over their own health and safety.”

The study identified a sense of obligation on the part of male farmers to put their ‘bodies on the line’ and, consequently, sacrifice their health.

The study found that how (male) farmers socially identify and express themselves, can lead them to delay seeking help for physical and mental health needs. For many farmers the act of opposing health-enhancing behaviors, or help-seeking behavior could be seen as an active demonstration of manliness and part of ‘being a farmer’. The authors’ argue that the associated behaviours of what many perceive to be ‘manly’ behaviour needs to be exposed as a construct that is inherently unhealthy.

Additionally noting that without further attention to male farmers’ health and the factors that make them particularly vulnerable, they will be left unsupported, and in danger of adding to the poor health statistics.

The next stage of the project aims to develop a training programme, titled ‘On Feirm Ground’, to take into consideration farmers’ concerns by providing farm advisors and consultants with the knowledge and skills to support farmers to be proactive in managing their health.


The research reported in this release has been published in the American Journal of Men’s Health and is available on-line here 

The Lead Author of this study Mr Conor Hammersley, Teagasc PhD Scholar and National Centre for Men’s Health, IT Carlow. Co-authors are Dr Noel Richardson, Director NCMH; Dr David Meredith, Senior Research Officer Teagasc; Dr Paula Carroll, Centre for Health Behaviour Research, Waterford Institute of Technology; and Dr John McNamara, Teagasc Senior Health and Safety Specialist Advisor. 

An online showcase aimed at creating a new National Farmer Health Alliance (NFHA) in Ireland will be held on September 16. The showcase will feature participative workshops during the morning and afternoon sessions. Find out more 

Mr Conor Hammersley will be available at this event to discuss his PhD study. Teagasc Health and Safety Specialists will also be on hand to explain the Teagasc role in promoting farmers health. E: conor.hammersley@itcarlow.ie

The paper produced is part of a wider study commissioned by the HSE and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine against a backdrop of poor health outcomes for male farmers.