BACKGROUND: Farmers and those involved in the wider agricultural industry have a high suicide rate. They are also a 'hard to reach' group who make less than average use of mental health services. There is therefore a need to understand how best to develop interventions that meet their needs. The aims of this study were to develop a deeper understanding of the farming context and target population and to engage farmers in the shaping of two potential mental health interventions that could be incorporated in a pilot RCT.
METHODS: The study was informed throughout by a reference group, who assisted in co-production of the research materials. A snowball approach was used to recruit interested individuals who had an association with farming. Twenty one telephone interviews were undertaken and analysed using the six phases of thematic analysis proposed by Braun and Clarke.
RESULTS: Key themes (and sub-themes shown in brackets) related to the study aims were: everyday life (work-life balance; isolation and loneliness); farm management (technology and social media; production, people management, learning and teaching; external pressures; livestock and farm production; financial aspects); demographics (effects of aging); engagement (appropriate wording when talking about mental health; recognising need for help; religion; normalising mental health issues; approaching the conversation); training (mental health training for supporters of the farming community; health & safety and the inclusion of mental health training); and personal stories and experiences, which was an emerging theme.
CONCLUSIONS: Recruiting farmers into research studies is best done by meeting farmers where they are found, for example, farmers marts. Accessibility of content, tailoring to the farming community, and guided support are key to effective recruitment and retention.