James Chapman’s life changed forever when he tragically lost his arm during a farming accident in 2005.
As a child, James felt like his career was mapped out for him. Farming had been in his blood for generations and as a young boy, he dreamed of driving tractors.
‘I remember helping out in the field as a teenager and despite working tirelessly for hours, I was determined to be out there long enough for it to get dark, so I could turn the lights on the tractor like a proper grown up farmer.’
After leaving school, James graduated from agricultural college and fulfilled his dream of working in the industry he loved. The hours were long and the pay wasn’t great, but he was incredibly happy. At the age of just 23, James set up on his own as an agricultural contractor, working on various aspects of farming in the surrounding areas.
Shortly after this time, a friend had asked James to help on his farm nearby and he agreed without hesitation. But when his clothing got caught up in the machinery he was working with, his life took a turn he had never expected and, tragically, James ended up losing his left arm.
After the accident
In the following weeks, friends, family and those in the farming community rallied round James. His local Young Farmers’ Club was a real lifeline for him. They organised numerous fundraisers to help him financially which also enabled him to adapt a vehicle so he could eventually continue to work.
‘The Young Farmers’ Club had a visiting rota while I was in hospital which was brilliant to help me stay positive and also stay connected. They were frequently over the three person visitation limit but I appreciated all the support I got!’
After about 10 months, things started to change for James. His relationship with his girlfriend at the time came to an end, and he started to feel depressed, lonely and isolated. He couldn’t work while he was recovering and found himself for the very first time not being part of the harvest. This had never happened before. He would stay at home, watching TV, and shutting himself away from the world. The days turned into weeks and at his lowest, James even contemplated suicide.
The loss of his arm didn’t feel so distressing to him, it was more so the loss of his identity as a working farmer that was so integral to who he was that felt so difficult. The career path that had been so clear now had to change – and that was tough to take in and process.
According to James, ‘The farming community is a very macho industry, and whether you’re a man or a woman, being tough physically and mentally is part of that mentality and expectation. So reaching out for help was not something I really considered at that time.’
Luckily for James, the farming community is incredibly tight-knit and supportive and so they reached out to him…
The turning point
One evening, a farming friend turned up and took James to the pub. This trip to the pub was no different to any other but it was so significant to James as it was the first step to feeling like himself again. He explained that, ‘There was no big conversation. It was more about feeling connected to others and especially to the farming community.’ Shortly afterwards, James threw himself into The Young Farmers’ Club which had always been such a lifeline for him.
‘Anything good that has happened since my accident, is as a result of The Young Farmers’ Club’
James candidly explained that as a farmer, you would only put your best herd by a roadside field so others (farmers in particular) would see you at your best. But perhaps this analogy also mirrors the challenge of mental health issues in the industry today. Many farmers just like James don’t want to admit that they might be struggling and so may show a different version of themselves to others. A version that is coping when the reality may be very different.
Suicide rates in agricultural workers are among the highest in any occupational group, so the industry is making changes to address this. Things are beginning to shift. Talking about mental health has become more normalised in agricultural training colleges, farming organisations and charities, as well as social media.
James’s accident and the support he received when he needed it most, prompted him to change his path. Now he dedicates his time to improving safety in the industry and preventing other farmers from suffering avoidable injuries or fatalities. His incredible work was recognised when he was awarded an MBE for services to farm safety in 2012. But as well as farm safety, James recognises that the mental health of farmers is just as imperative and regularly supports others with similar experiences to him.
Where to seek help
The farming industry is a supportive community and there are many organisations that offer help to those who need it.
At Qwell, we are proud to work in partnership with RABI (Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution) to support those in the farming community by offering free, safe and anonymous emotional support. For a chat or to message one of the team about anything at all, take a look here: https://www.qwell.io/members.html/messages