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Prince helps 'suicidal' farmers

Prince Charles
Prince Charles, far left, said the disease is causing farmers "severe stress and anxiety"  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Prince Charles has pledged to donate 500,000 ($725,000) to help British farmers battling the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

The heir-to-the-throne expressed fears that the crisis over the livestock disease threatens financial ruin for many farmers and could drive some to suicide.

A tenant farm on land owned by Prince Charles is among almost 250 confirmed cases of the disease in the UK.

The Prince said: "It is another desperate blow on top of so many others."

A strong supporter of rural life, he said six charities would benefit from the handout to farmers under severe strain from the "dreaded outbreak."

The Prince said: "Farmers are facing the severest restrictions and desperate hardship. This means that in many cases farmers are receiving no income whatsoever.

"I want to do everything I can to help these farmers and their families to keep their heads above water.

"Even those whose farms have so far escaped the disease have rightly had severest restrictions put upon the movement of their stock.

"This outbreak is imposing severe stress and anxiety on many individuals and families. There can be no doubt that the risks of suicides among rural communities is heightened."

The charities to benefit from his donation are The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, The Royal Scottish Benevolent Institution, The ARC-Adington Fund, The Rural Stress Information Network, The Farm Crisis Network and The Samaritans.

He said the danger of suicides and general stress had led him to contribute some of his donation to three charities working specifically in that area.

Suicide rate among farmers and farm workers have been rising in recent years. In 1999, the last full year for which figures are available, 77 took their lives.

Charities and helplines have reported a surge of calls from worried farmers since the foot-and-mouth outbreak began.

Newspapers reported that Welsh farmer Brian Oakley, 54, a father of two, had hanged himself after being "tipped over the edge" by the foot and mouth epidemic.

His wife Gillian was quoted as saying he had been clinically depressed for two years as a result of the mad cow crisis and falling farm prices.

She said the foot-and-mouth outbreak had been the final blow.

The UK's National Union of Farmers said the crisis is adding to the depth of the despair among farmers.

NFU President Ben Gill said: "There is not a farmer in the country who cannot name at least one friend, associate or colleague from within the industry who has taken his life because of the intense concerns they have for the future."

The union has set up a helpline for its members and is a key supporter of the Rural Stress Information Network, which offers advice to farmers and their staff.

The Samaritans said Prince Charles's donation would provide vital emotional support for farmers and rural communities experiencing emotional stress.

A spokesman said: "The Samaritans share the Prince's concerns that the current outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease will impact on the high levels of emotional stress already experienced by farmers and the rural community."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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The Prince of Wales
The British Monarchy
National Farmers' Union
The Samaritans
Rural Stress Information Network

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