JANUARY can often be a 'blue' time of year – the post festive lull can be a lonely time and starting a new year with uncertainty as to the months ahead can bring with it challenges, but also excitement and opportunities.

As everyone has been sharing their New Year wishes, we at The SF would like to share one more – that as an industry we will work to tackle the stigma around mental health and will chose to value and prioritise our mental wellbeing in the months ahead.

In this fourth instalment of the ‘Mind Your Health’ series we look at the impact of stereotypes in both mental health in farming and more widely on how people look upon the industry.

Tackling stereotypes with Graham Morgan

Mental health was a key theme at this year’s NFUS autumn conference and guest speaker, Graham Morgan, shared with attendees his own personal story and the adversity he has faced and continues to face when opening up about his condition.

Having been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, along with depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse, Graham has spent the last 10 years receiving treatment from nurses and psychiatrists and is passionate about drawing from his own experiences to offer support to others. He is now a special advisor to ‘action for mental health’ – otherwise known as HUG and is the author of START, a biography which seeks to highlight how people who suffer from poor mental health can and do, live full and positive lives.

He was awarded an MBE for services to mental health and helped to write the Scottish Mental Health (2003) Care and Treatment Act which he then was himself detained under in later years. Despite not having a direct link to the Scottish farming industry, Graham has a firm idea of the pressures facing farmers and understands what it is like to be a victim of preconceptions and stereotypes and was keen to share some advice with the farming community on this subject matter.

“I do worry each time that I meet someone new how they will react when I tell them I suffer from schizophrenia. I am not sure why, because in the many decades of being public about it, I have only had one bad reaction to it. But there is that label, those images on the television and in the papers that can mean that people can be wary of people like me. I think it is the readiness with which we can come to negative conclusions, when we look at different communities who we may know little of, that can obscure the humanity and the vibrancy we all have.

“On the subject of stereotypes and preconceptions, although I have spent much of my life in rural areas, I have rarely had any long conversations with farmers. I have a hazy idea of strong stout people! People who don’t take fools seriously, people reluctant to talk about emotion, self-reliant and self-resilient, people not interested in culture, not the best of talkers, perhaps more conservative than most people. I could go on, it is not the most attractive picture and maybe not the worst of pictures, but in its own way offensive, just as a caricature of someone with schizophrenia is.

“To be typecast and to have assumptions made about who you are and how you think and behave is always wrong - it always leads the way to prejudice and the loss of the sight of the person behind the label.I much prefer to find people as I see them and hope that I do not meet strangers with suspicion in my mind.

“I imagine the reality for many farmers is that they do not earn the fortune some people think they do. They work long hours and do a type of work most people have little conception of in its harshness and effort. I imagine farmers to be bound by bureaucracy and stressed out by forms and deeply worried about Brexit.

"I would guess that it can be hard to get time to be with family and friends and to just relax and that the idea of a mental health day off because they cannot face the snow in the morning is just plain ludicrous. And getting access to someone to talk about the stress they are under would feel just plain impossible, when they have a field to plough or animals to tend to and hardly any signal to their mobiles.

"Then there can be that tension of how to pass on a loved business, land and a home, to children and equally sometimes a tension from their children as to whether they want to take it on. Also, the weather can be bleak, the night cold, the mud clingy and their eyes red raw with tiredness. What I do know is that living in a rural area can make the anonymity some people wish for and need when living with a mental illness difficult to maintain. Unfortunately, this can put some people off seeking the help that may be essential to their health.

“If you are struggling with your mental health, do remember that you have as much right to get help for your mental health as for your physical health, it is a natural part of existing to have varying levels of mental health both good and bad and an obvious and sensible thing to get help for it if you are having problems with it. It can be hard to seek help, it may be that your friends or relatives are worried about you, do listen to them if they think you need some support, and equally if you are worried about someone, try to be there for them, you may be the link they need to get the help they could really benefit from,” urged Mr Morgan.

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

Scottish Association of Mental Health – 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 (National Rural Mental Health Forum) 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.