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Saturday, 21 April, 2001, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Farmers' stress levels set to soar
Sheep in a field
Stress levels set to soar as animals culled
Stress and mental health problems among farmers will grow as more animals are culled, a doctor has warned.

Dr Graham Thomas, a GP in Gaerwen, Anglesey, said GPs expect an increase in new cases of depression and stress because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

A slaughterman off work because of stress attended the surgery and cried because his one pet sheep was to be culled

Dr Graham Thomas
He said the destruction of animals will leave farmers with more time on their hands to worry and brood.

Dr Thomas said farmers who in the last few weeks had been pre-occupied with fighting the disease and protecting their animals, now faced empty fields and a loss of livelihood.

He said he feared they would become introspective and depressed.

'Empty fields'

He said: "There has been a mass cull. One third of the island has just empty fields.

"The farmers' lives are quite empty now and there is nothing to generate income for them over the next six months.

"At the moment the farmers are just getting used to having no sheep on their farms. The after-effects will cause some depression.

"It will be a slow creep of cases, but we expect more than usual the number of depressed farmers."

The farmers are not the only ones to suffer because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic. Dr Thomas said slaughtermen and people involved in the tourism industry were all suffering from increased stress.

"A slaughterman off work because of stress attended the surgery and cried because his one pet sheep was to be culled.

"He rescued it as a lamb when it was born in the abattoir."

A spokeswoman for the Rural Stress Information Network said they had been inundated with calls from farmers worried about how they would cope.

'Farming may never get back to normal'

She said it was important the public realised that even when the government get the foot-and-mouth outbreak under control the problems will just be beginning for many farmers.

She said: "It is going to take some time before farming is back to normal, if it ever is.

"In some areas there will be those who feel they can't continue farming, particularly in the hill areas like Cumbria and Wales."

She said farmers had been regularly ringing the helpline and saying how stressed they were.

The Rural Stress Information Network, which gives general advice and guidance can be contacted weekdays between 0900 and 1700 on 024 7641 2916.

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution can give financial assistance to farmers and can be contacted between Monday and Thursday 0900 to 1700 and up to 1630 on Fridays. It can be contacted on 01865 727 888.

Farm Crisis Network, which offers practical support for farmers, is open evenings between 1900 and 2200 on 07002 326 326.

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