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DCU research study finds that over 25pc of Irish farmers are suffering from burn out

The DCU study, to be published in the March edition of Safety Science, displays a range of serious findings about mental health in the Irish farming community.

The research was conducted by the School of Health and Human Performance's Dr Siobhan O'Connor, Dr Anna Donnla O'Hagan and Sandra Malone, along with collaborators from Trinity College Dublin and Teagasc.

Responding to a lack of psychometric testing based research on sleep and burnout in European, and specifically Irish farmers, the team conducted a cross-sectional prevalence assessment of sleep issues and burnout with a population sample of 351 Irish farmers. Using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), a subscale of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), and the Short Form Health Survey-12 (SFHS), they identified how farmers’ sleep and burnout were correlated with their mental and physical health and identified the role of individual factors such as socioeconomic status, age, and gender. 

Irish farmers reported frequent burnout (23.6%) and widespread sleep issues (50.1%), with burnt out farmers reporting especially poor sleep. This has serious implications for farmers’ health, as burnt out farmers and farmers with poor sleep both reported worse mental and physical health. Age and parenthood were identified as risk factors for burnout. The key takeaway is that Irish farmers as a population need health interventions targeting sleep and burnout; especially in older and parent populations. 

Key findings:

  • Irish farmers reported frequent burnout (24%) and widespread sleep issues (50%).
  • Burnt-out farmers reported especially severe sleep issues.
  • Burnt-out farmers reported worse mental and physical health.
  • Farmers with sleep issues reported worse mental and physical health.
  • Older farmers and those with children were especially at risk of burnout.

DCU Research Impact


Being burnt out and having poor sleep can lead to serious issues on the farm, with farmers making quick and poor judgments  potentially leading to accidents. It can also negatively impact their quality of life and their relationships with their family.

The study has generated significant media attention with coverage in the Irish Independent, an RTE Brainstorm piece co-authored by several of the researchers, and an appearance by Dr O'Connor and Dr O'Hagan on the Agri Insider series 'Chewing the Cud'.

This publication is the latest in a series on the topic from the team. Last summer saw the release of a targeted mental health intervention for farmers designed to be implemented at focus groups across the country. Taking farmers’ feedback and needs into account the team designed a short, thirty minute or less, in-person intervention which can be facilitated at discussion groups across the country. The intervention is designed to encourage discussion with farmers about how to recognise the signs of someone struggling and how to seek help.

Data linked to this release found that in addition to sleep and burn out issues, farmers had issues accessing mental health support. It found that 71% of farmers would seek professional help if they were experiencing a mental breakdown, while 54% didn’t know how to contact a local mental health clinic, and a quarter didn’t know where to go to receive mental health services, or how to get a suicide prevention hotline number. The researchers found that farmers with mental health or substance use issues were less likely to seek help, while 30% believed that counselling is a last resort.