NFU Scotland’s north east division are championing an initiative to look at tackling poor mental health in the farming community and are meeting with farmers across the region to work out what needs to be done to deliver meaningful action.

Regional manager Lorna Paterson has been working passionately behind the scenes to support local farmers and enable conversations around mental health. Over the past 12 years working with the union, she has witnessed a considerable increase in mental health related cases and believes that any initiative on mental health must be farmer led.

Lorna Paterson

“Within a year of starting my new post with NFUS I began to notice members were coming to me to discuss concerns with their mental health, as I built up a position of trust in the community. I was really concerned to realise how many people were suffering with depression and over the past 12 years this has only escalated further.

“This pushed me to volunteer as a counsellor for Aberdeen Counselling Information Services as I felt it was so important that I am able to support as well as listen to farmers who approach me with their concerns.

“I held a meeting with NHS Grampian four years ago and with the support of Andrea Gilmartin and her team we started off a new farming initiative under the banner of NHS Grampian’s programme called ‘Healthy Working Lives’. The premise of this was to look at the overall health of farmers, with particular focus on back ache, blood pressure, prostate cancer, eyesight and hearing, but it was clear that mental health needed to be incorporated.

“From there we decided to do some surveys at Turriff show alongside NHS Grampian, where we spoke informally with farmers and it became evidently clear that mental health was one of the biggest problems facing the community. People indicated that they wanted support to help tackle it and we had facts and proof to start putting this in to action.

“We discovered that farmers often chose not to go to the doctor because of time constraints and a mentality of ‘it’ll be fine’ – however, many discovered this wasn’t the case. We looked at holding workshops where we could offer farmers a full health check on a farm which they would never squeeze into a short appointment with a GP, but unfortunately the turnout was poor. Moving away from the mentality of not seeking support or advice is still a constant challenge but one we are making progress on.

“We were approached by Robert Gordon’s University (RGU) and they were very supportive and offered to apply for internal funding, and in conjunction with NHS Grampian and ourselves, we renamed the project ‘mental wellbeing in the farming population’.

“We have been holding workshops, with the purpose of getting groups of farmers together to explore opinions on mental health and what we can do to improve the situation in the farming community and to try to co-design an intervention plan.

“The farmers who have taken part in the workshops to date have been very open about some of the issues they face and how it affects their mental health. They have also provided some suggestions on the type of support they think would be beneficial to them and to other members of the farming community.

“One of the main reasons I have found with farmers choosing not to seek support is that they only want to speak to people who can talk the same farming language. The stresses facing farmers such as completing forms; applying for farm payments; farm inspections and TB testing, are normal speak in our industry but not everybody can empathise or understand these pressures. As I’ve learnt from my own role within NFUS, trust is built up over time and only then will farmers begin to confide.

“In the near future, there are further workshops planned with health professionals as well as farmers, in order to refine the best intervention and then hopefully, with funding and subsequent research we can start putting some of these ideas into action.

“We have a big open meeting with the farming community planned this coming November at Thainstone mart, which will feature RSABI, NHS Grampian, RGU and two farmers who are going to share their own stories on mental health. There will be a Q and A session which we hope will encourage people to engage with the conversation and we want people to leave the event with a more open approach to discussing mental health, be that with their partner, wider family and friends,” concluded Ms Paterson.

In the meantime, she stressed that if there is a demand from local farmers wishing to discuss their mental health concerns with an expert, then she would be happy to set up confidential appointments on a Friday and urged them to contact her directly at or 07786 860453.

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 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

SAMH – 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 (NRMHF) Call on 0131 662 4359 Mon – Fri between 9am – 5pm or

You can reach us by phone on 0131 662 4359 Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm.

ACIS (Aberdeen Counselling & Information Services) –Call Helpline 01224 573892 during normal office hours, or between 5.30pm – 8.30pm Monday to Thursday.

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