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Feeling down on the farm

A scheme to treat depressed patients to a few afternoons of milking and muck-spreading is as hare-brained as it gets, says Copperfield

I’d thought, hoped even, that the recession and the inevitable cuts to frontline services that will follow might rid us of hare-brained ideas that do nothing except chomp away at the NHS cake. But then I came across a scheme designed to lift the spirits of melancholic patients by treating them to a few days out on a farm.

Anyone living within welly-throwing distance of Ipswich and feeling a bit down in the dumps can ask their GP (who is ideally placed, etc, etc) to refer them to Farmer Giles’s homestead for a few afternoons of milking and muck-spreading. Which rather ignores the obvious fact that each and every depressed patient on the books will exclude themselves by claiming to be ‘allergic to dairy’.

But that apart, what’s not to like? It might encourage the punters to take an interest in agriculture – it could even reduce their tendency to mount phobic avoidance responses at the first mention of fruit and veg. Although if a heartsink did happen to be bitten by the organic produce bug there isn’t a lot of farming to take an interest in around Basildon – not counting the ubiquitous cultivation of cannabis in the loft, of course.

‘Lettuce and lovage’ is one thing, livestock is something very different. OK, we’ve all seen the research showing that keeping a pet dog or cat is good for Grandma’s mental health. But anybody proposing that the benefits might be proportional to the size of the animal is talking complete bullocks, even when you factor in the substantial savings in follow-up costs when you replace Purrikins with a Bengal tiger.

And then there are the health risks inherent in every trip to the farm. As sure as free-range eggs are well, just eggs, at least a dozen of the participants are bound to succumb to E. Coli or Campylobacter infections after petting the cute ickle lamby-wambies or stroking the nice horsey.

Not to mention the possibility that the Wurzels might turn up, knock off an impromptu rendition of Combine ‘arvester and provoke the depressed into enacting a tragic suicide pact.

You might accuse me of getting soft in my old age, but I really don’t want to see any of my serotonin-depleted melon farmers chucking themselves under the wheels of a passing tractor or into the jaws of the threshing machine in a plot line that would even make the script editors of The Archers pause for a reality check.

Why worry? It’s far more likely that I’d see them making a beeline for Ye Olde Worlde Home-Made Fudge Shoppe in the converted barn for some serious comfort food, followed by some even more serious purging and vomiting.

We could scale the whole thing down, I suppose. ‘Mrs Glum, would you prefer your repeat prescription for Prozac or a hamster this month?’

It’s just a shame that we’ll never be able to properly take it to a grander scale… include trips to the zoo, county agricultural shows or American state fairs. I can just imagine the YouTube footage of my heartsinks dodging violently-hurled chimpanzee droppings in Regents Park or wrestling grizzly bears in Wyoming.

Now, that would be worth shelling out for the cost of their hotels and transport, recession or no recession.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex.

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