By Debbie James

It’s not unusual for Hannah Lawrence to receive a phone call from a fellow farmer when she is milking her cows. That call will have been made to the helpline of a Pembrokeshire-based mental health charity and diverted to Hannah as the volunteer on call that day.

Twenty-two-year-old Hannah is one of the charity’s 18 volunteers, all Samaritans trained, who take calls made to the 24-hour helpline of the DPJ Foundation, which supports farmers and others in rural communities in Pembrokeshire.

With one farmer taking his or her own life every week in the UK, Hannah volunteered with the DPJ Foundation after seeing first-hand the impact the milk price crash was having on the mental health of fellow dairy farmers.

At that time, she was working as an AI technician and was acutely aware of the mental pressure it was having on many farmers.

“They opened up about how difficult everything was, it made me feel connected to them and I wanted to give something back,’’ recalls Hannah, who farms with her grandparents and brothers at Great Hares Head, a dairy, beef and sheep farm near Crundale.

She did this by volunteering for the DPJ Foundation, taking calls from farmers and others working in the agriculture sector.

“I man the helpline for 12 hours a week and when that happens calls are transferred to my phone. I might be working on the farm when a call comes through but I just stop what I am doing and take the call,’’ she explains.

That call can result in the farmer receiving counselling from one of the charity’s 15 counsellors within 24 hours – people who visit their GP with mental health issues might not access similar support for six to nine months.

The charity was formed by Pembrokeshire farmer’s daughter, Emma Picton-Jones, whose husband, Daniel, an agricultural contractor, took his own life in July 2016.

Daniel was just 34 and had two young children when he committed suicide.

Emma says his death was devastating and brought into sharp focus a huge problem surrounding mental health problems among farmers and others who work in the industry.

“Daniel had mental health problems all his life and he sought support when he was younger but that support was not appropriate or specific to his needs so it wasn’t effective and didn’t work.’’

Emma was determined to create something positive from such a tragic situation so she set up the DPJ Foundation, whose core focus is mental health awareness training.

In January, the Foundation launched the Share The Load initiative, offering fully funded counselling with qualified counsellors – face-to-face at home or in another location in Pembrokeshire, or by the internet or phone.

“The take-up has been tremendous, we currently have at least one client a week accessing that service, it might be a teenager or someone in their 80s,’’ says Emma.

“That person might have been having suicidal thoughts, be suffering from depression or anxiety, any number of problems.’’

The callers are mostly men.

“Women are generally better at dealing with mental health issues but we do get calls from women,’’ says Emma.

The running costs of the charity are currently around £20,000 a year and it is developing new services all the time, including delivering health care in marts in west Wales through its Health Hub project, so fundraising is vital.

It was the reason why Hannah recently threw open the gates of Great Hares Head Farm to hold an open day to raise money for the foundation and to raise awareness of the work the charity undertakes in the community. It was also an opportunity to educate the public about farming.

The event, which included sheep shearing, milking and cookery demonstrations and a sheep dog trial, was hugely well supported, both by visitors on the day and by local businesses, including NFU Cymru, raising £3,500.

“I am very grateful to all my friends, neighbours and those that helped on the day,’’ says Hannah.