Eddie Gillanders: Pressures of modern farming impact on mental health
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Mental health is, thank goodness, no longer a taboo issue and is something which people, both those unfortunate enough to be directly affected and those keen to understand and provide comfort and help, are now more willing to openly discuss.
It has been well documented that stress, depression and poor mental health are conditions which are particularly prevalent in the farming community which is not surprising given the pressures of modern farming and in many cases the loneliness of farming life with farmers working away on their own and with no one to share their anxieties with.
There’s no doubt that having somebody to talk to and being willing to talk about any problems you may have is the first vital step on the road to recovery.
This is the logic behind a new mental health peer support group which has been formed by the north-east region of NFU Scotland to provide a free help service to farmers and others employed in the agricultural industry facing mental health issues.
The group is being led by Kintore farmer, Kevin Gilbert, who by his own admission has had his own anxiety problems from time to time in the past and has been vocal in his support for action to help the increasing number of people in the farming industry suffering from depression or other mental health problems.
The formation of this new group is designed to provide a safe place for folk to talk openly about their problems informally, seek basic support if required and bridge the gap until deciding whether to seek more formal help from the likes of RSABI.
“We are finding that the impact of poor mental well-being is a key challenge for many people nowadays and we feel it could be beneficial to offer a local, confidential and like-minded support mechanism in order to share conversations and help unburden those who are struggling,” said NFUS North-east regional manager, Lorna Paterson.
Financial support for the initiative is being provided from the £22,000 raised for charity at the final Joe Watson Annual Testimonial Stockjudging Event which has been held by union branches in the north-east every year since the sad death of P and J agricultural editor, Joe Watson, in 2014.
This year’s event was held on the farm of Scotland’s current Scotch Beef Farmer of the Year, Harry Brown, at Auchmaliddie Mains, Maud, and attracted an attendance of around 700. Mental health problems can affect younger people as well as the older generation and the RSABI carried out a survey on the subject at the young farmers’ stand over the four days of the Royal Highland Show. A total of 114 young people aged from 16 to 30 took part in the survey which has highlighted many of the factors affecting the mental health of young people in agriculture.
The biggest challenges to their mental health reported by the young farmers were long work hours (30 per cent), reluctance to talk about their feelings (18 per cent), isolated location (16 per cent), the cost of going out (15 per cent) and shyness (11 per cent). A further six per cent were unsure how to meet people.
The importance of meeting up with others at events and shows shone through very clearly, with 98 per cent of respondents rating attending the Royal Highland Show as important for their mental health.
SAYFC chief executive, Penny Montgomerie, said: “SAYFC has actively been raising awareness of wellbeing via our ‘Are Ewe Okay?’ campaign, to help our members find support for themselves, their families and friends.
“Having RSABI join us at the Royal Highland Show helped raise awareness of the wide variety of services that are available, together with offering valuable insight into some of the challenges young people are facing in the rural communities.”
RSABI provides emotional, practical and financial support to people of all ages in Scottish agriculture and an increasing amount of the work done by their case officers relates to mental health, with around 90 per cent of the welfare team’s time now devoted to practical and emotional support. Free counselling is provided by RSABI to people in Scottish agriculture struggling with their mental health. This is simple to arrange and can be accessed very quickly and demand for the service has trebled during the past year. However only 36 per cent of young farmers surveyed were aware that RSABI offered free counselling.
The young farmers who took part in the survey were also asked if they felt they would know how to support someone close to them who was struggling with their mental health. While a very encouraging 68 per cent of young farmers said they felt they would know how to support a friend, neighbour or relative struggling with their mental health, around 32 per cent would simply not know how to respond.
“We know social anxiety among young people, aggravated by lockdown during Covid, is a major issue that young farmers and indeed many older people in the farming community, are now struggling with,” said RSABI chief executive, Carol McLaren. RSABI’s freephone Helpline - 0808 1234 555 - is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
All enquires are treated as confidential.