Just over a year ago, the Church of Scotland employed Scotland’s first farming minister – Reverend Chris Blackshaw – to be based at Craig Wilson’s Ayr market.

Moving from Cumbria, where he had worked as agricultural chaplain for a couple of years, Chris has already made a huge impact on the local farming community. Through his regular visits to Ayrshire farms, his role has given him a direct insight in to the state of mental health within the farming community, an area which he explained highlighted great concern.

In response, he has recently initiated Scotland’s first farming health scheme at Ayr market – which he hopes will encourage farmers to begin to prioritise and recognise their own health.

“One of the big issues with mental health is it’s not something you can see,” Chris explained. “It’s not like a broken arm, so unless someone starts to share with you how they are feeling, it can be very difficult to pick up the signs.

“I do find that people who are bubbly and often joking around – quite often they can be the ones with depression,” he stressed. “One farmer who took his own life a few weeks ago shocked the farming community as he seemed happy, always laughing as he went about his business. I have to say to people that often behave like this do so as a mask hiding what is really going on.”

Chris goes out in to the local community and meets with farmers and encourages them to talk about the nature of their business and how they are getting on more generally. He said he had witnessed first-hand how the monotonous and relentless nature of farm work can leave farmers feeling isolated and lonely. He stressed that it was important for farmers to take time to look after themselves and not to always let work get in the way of their health.

“I find with farmers that they work from when they get up to when they go to bed. But they need to have some rest to break up that work cycle – it is really difficult, but so important,” Chris explained. “Work will always come first and I worry that with more farmers working solo because labourers are disappearing off farms, that there aren’t people around to share a conversation with. Farmers are more than ever on their own!

“Farmers tell me that money is always a huge concern, whether they can make ends meet and keep up with the bills,” he continued. “I’ve sat around kitchen tables with farmers sobbing their eyes out as they have let their pressures build up and finally can say them out loud and offload.

“I do think people are beginning to open up a bit more about their mental health and thanks to people like Prince Harry and William for being open and honest about how they feel, these conversations have become more normalised,” he commented. “Prince Harry addressed the Australian farmers on his recent tour and talked to them specifically about mental health – encouraging them not to keep their concerns to themselves but to share their feelings with one another.

“I couldn’t echo these sentiments enough. Farmers need to be able to share their problems with one another and lighten their own loads,” he urged.

“If you are feeling down or might be depressed for goodness sake see your GP, don’t put it off,” Chris stressed. “We are trying to help by introducing health checks at the market as farmers can incorporate having a check whilst carrying out their business, it prevents them from making excuses to ignore their health. Our workshops now offer blood pressure checks, stress level indicators and sugar level checks etc.

“We have had people from the mental health team here and someone from oral health as dentists have told us that the only time farmers go to them is between November and March. Farmers put their own health to the side of everything else.

“They do all their jobs and if they have time they go to the doctor. I would urge farmers that they must find time to prioritise their health whether that be seeking support from a GP or sharing their stresses with a fellow farmer or friend,” he added.

(Reverend Chris Blackshaw covers the Presbytery of Ayr and has offered his support to anyone who may be affected by the subject matter of this piece. He can be contacted, with full confidentiality, on 07980975062)

Guidance and support

If you have personally been affected by any of the content in this series and would like to seek further advice, please see the contact details of specific organisations below:

  • Breathing Space – Lines are open Mon – Thu between 6pm - 2am and from Fri 6pm – Mon 6am
  • RSABI - Helpline open seven days between 7am – 11pm on 0300 111 4166 or rsabi@rsabi.org.uk
  • SAMH – Call the info service on 0141 530 1000 Mon – Fri between 9-5 or enquire@samh.org.uk.
  • Samaritans – Helpline open 24/7, on 116 123 or 08457 90 90 90 or jo@samaritans.org
  • Support in Mind Scotland (NRMHF) Call on 0131 662 4359 Mon – Fri between 9am – 5pm or info@supportinmindscotland.org.uk

If you need urgent medical attention, then please call NHS 24 on 111 or call emergency services on 999.