THE SUBJECT of mental health has become a talking point in the past few years and government policy has been to take steps towards prioritising mental health support in services throughout Scotland.

The benefits of going for counselling is increasingly part of this approach and encouraged. However, in Scotland’s farming community, there is still very much a taboo that exists around seeking support in this way.

Hilda Lawrie is a counsellor from Dalgety Bay, in Fife, who understands what it’s like to live through some of the struggles facing the industry, the family farm having to be sold, following the need to divide it up financially for family reasons. The stress of her own farming experience had a massive impact on her mental health and it was through seeking help via counselling that she was able to gain back the strength to get her life back on track.

Now putting that experience to use as a counsellor herself, she is aware of the unique needs of the farming industry and understands the apprehension that farmers feel towards reaching out for support. Through sharing her story and personal account of counselling with The Scottish Farmer, she hopes others might be inspired by her journey and take their own steps to recovery.

“My former husband and I lived on his family farm in Kinross for many years before he eventually took over the operation himself, following his dad’s death in 1990. It was a very difficult time for the family as my father-in-law’s death led to financial issues, which is a real challenge facing so many families in Scotland.

"Sadly, the farming industry often divides families which adds to an already stressful situation. My husband’s mental strength also took a real battering during that time and because often in farming, everybody knows your business, I felt the need to hide from people what was really going on.

“When the bank one day turned around and said to us, 'enough is enough' – we had to make the decision to sell up and move to the local town. People sometimes can overlook the farmer’s wife when problems arise on a farm. I absolutely sunk at the time. I was devastated to lose not only my beautiful home but my lifestyle. It was all gone!"

Hilda and her husband had a mixed operation on their farm of dairy, beef and arable. Although Hilda wasn’t full time on the farm, she looked after the family B and B and had invested in the full lifestyle that farming life brings. “Although we moved to a lovely house in the town, I remember waking up on a Sunday morning and thinking what do people do? There are no jobs to be getting on with.

“I thought to myself – what can I do? Wash the car, cut the grass, it all seemed so futile. Around Christmas, I was asked to lots of parties and wasn’t able to face going out and being sociable.

"Still suffering from the aftermath of leaving the farm, I called my GP who encouraged me to go for counselling. At the time I was struggling and this counsellor found me and brought me back to life.

Hilda went to see a ‘person centred counsellor’ which is a therapist who attempts to understand an individual’s experience from their perspective. By helping the client better understand their own feelings, they can help them to reconnect with their inner values and sense of self-worth, enabling them to find their own way to move forward and progress.

“Each session I attended gave me the space and time to explore my thoughts and feelings,” Hilda continued. “It helps you find a way forward in a confidential space without judgement. In the first place, it can seem elusive, but through talking regularly you begin to understand your situation more clearly and explore alternative ways of responding and begin to nurture change in your life.

“I saw my counsellor for eight sessions and I remember on my last visit thinking ‘I’m not going to survive without him’ but you do! You realise you have found the strength you need to carry on and realise how cathartic the whole process has been.

“It wasn’t until my late 50s that I decided to go in to counselling myself. I felt my own experience had been so powerful and I wanted to help other people in the way that I had been helped.

"Being older is an advantage. I’ve lived through a lot and I’m aware that the farming industry aren’t good at asking for help as I’ve seen it first-hand. There is still very much a barrier to people picking up a phone and making that initial call. The whole process may seem daunting, but I couldn’t express to people enough just how warm and welcoming it really is.

"It is also a chance to escape from an industry where there can be a lack of anonymity, to speak openly, in a confidential space. It can be a great relief to put your thoughts and feelings in to words with someone who is not directly involved with your life and who will try to understand without judging.

“In my line of work, I have found potential clients disappear from the process as they can’t make that initial step. Farmers often view counselling as voodoo witchcraft and see themselves as a unique industry which those looking in, might not understand.

"They lead a hectic and pressured life and rarely take the time to rest and fully acknowledge what’s going on around them. I feel I have something to offer the farming community as I have been in their position and I really want to stress that counselling can be a very powerful part of the healing process,” urged Hilda.

* is a place where individuals can look for a counsellor working locally, by searching via their postcode. Hilda has also said that anyone within the farming community who would like to contact her, can do so on – 07973291338 or e-mail

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

* Scottish Association of Mental Health – Call the info service on 0141 530 1000 Mon – Fri between 9-5 or

* Samaritans – Helpline open 24/7, on 116 123, or 08457 90 90 90, or

* Support in Mind Scotland (National Rural Mental Health Forum) Call on 0131 662 4359 Mon – Fri between 9am – 5pm or

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