AS FARMERS gather from across the UK to celebrate one of the biggest agricultural shows in the country – The Royal Highland – it is important to recognise the significance of such events in the social calendar in uniting the farming fraternity and offering some respite from the pressures of busy working lives.

The Farming sector has stood the test of time and in recent years has faced huge challenges between foot-and-mouth, collapsing dairy prices, Brexit uncertainties and much more.

Despite a demonstration of great resilience and strength, sometimes the pride of the industry can shield the impact those years of turmoil have had on the mental wellbeing of so many.

One farmer who has suffered from the silence that ensues from ‘keeping up appearances’ in the farming sector is Northern Ireland dairy farmer Adam Watson. Via an online blog, he recently shared an emotive account of his journey through depression, opening up to others about his mental health and how certain pressures in his life had pushed him to breaking point.

He shared this story with the Scottish Farmer in the hope of encouraging others to not be afraid to ask for help and explained how a conversation with his wife Laura played a huge role in saving his life.

Adam’s story

In 2004, Adam returned from University to his family farm in Coleraine, a few miles from the North Coast of NI, where he has been milking 120 cows and looking after a flock of pedigree Blackface sheep ever since. He took us back to 2016 during the peak of the dairy crisis and where, along with other pressures, his battle with depression began:

“For me, it wasn’t just one thing. It was a combination of things that built up over a prolonged period of time. The main one I guess, was the global milk price crisis that was going on at that time and I don’t need to tell any dairy farmer reading this how bad it was, we all lived through it together.

“On our farm we dipped below cost of production in January 2015 and never got back into the black until October 2016. That was over 600 evenings of going to bed in a worse position than when you got up that morning,” he recalled. “In farming we all go through periods like this, but I suppose because it went on for so long, it started to wear on me mentally.

“Then there was the fact I was getting married in October that year, which is stressful, without the financial pressure from the milk price spilling over into it. I started to feel I wasn’t pulling my weight before we even got married.

“I also lost my paternal grandfather at the start of the year who had passed down the family farm and a few other things happened that weren’t big on their own but just seemed to pile up on the pre-existing pressures,” he continued.

“Mentally at that time I was running on empty, and I probably wasn’t too far off a breakdown of some sort. I started to suffer from sudden bouts of sporadic crying. That was the first sign to me that something not normal was going on.”

“It’s important to note that to the outside world I seemed fine,” Adam continued. “People with mental illness are quite often good at functioning in front of people. I was a little more irritable with my family than normal but to all extents and purposes, nobody had a clue I was in turmoil. Around that time, I hit my lowest point, and in that moment, I realised I didn’t want to be alive anymore. Thankfully I never acted on those feelings, I’ve come so far since."

During this difficult time, Adam found the courage to open up to his wife-to-be and admit to her that he was struggling, which game him the strength to make it through their wedding.

“The turning point for me was talking to Laura and telling her that something wasn’t right. I told her about the crying and in a way that released some of the pressure. That conversation probably saved my life,” he stressed.

“That was just before our wedding and with her beside me, pulling me through, we got married – we had a really good day as strange as that may seem. We went away for a few days after the wedding and I thought that with the stress of the wedding past and milk price on the turn things would go back to normal."

Despite things improving, Adam went to visit the doctor a few weeks after the wedding and had to come to terms with the fact that he was suffering with depression.

“Those stresses in my life had left a lasting mark - I was left with depression. Anyone who has ever had depression will know it’s something you carry with you all the time - even when you’re on top form,” he said. “One of the things that helps me, is to visualise depression as a physical thing - I called my depression the black hood.

“When I was at my worst, this hood was pulled tightly up over my head, blocking out all the light and all the good things in my life,” he explained. “Conversely, when I’m at my best, which is most of the time, the hood is pulled down and lies limply on my shoulders.

“If I’m under stress, which is usually caused by something on the farm, the hood can start to creep up my neck, but I now know I need to do something to stop it rising further. But like a hood, when it’s down, I can still feel it and I think it will probably always be there, even if it never affects me again.”

Adam shared his experience of opening up to his family and friends and how this has helped with his recovery and how the farming community can be guilty of suffering in silence.

“One of the big problems with mental health is the stigma attached, particularly in farming circles. I feared my friends finding out and it being discussed in whispers behind my back,”

“After I went to the doctor, I told my parents and a short time later my brother and sisters. Even though they knew, we still never really talked about it. It wasn’t until I wrote the blog that we really started to address it as a family. Until then I never came clean on the full extent of the problem and how I deal with it,” he admitted.

Adam’s blog, which he timed to coincide with mental health awareness week, has received over 25,000 views worldwide and over 500 individual responses. (You can view his blog here -

“To me, that just indicates how much of a hidden problem mental health is,” he continued. “I’d be surprised if there is a family in the country not affected by some sort of mental health issue. I’ve heard a lot of stories of farmers who have gone through similar things.

“One thing I would say is it has generally been a family member who has got in touch with me - usually a wife or a daughter. This tells me that there is still a reluctance in this male dominated industry to come forward to talk and look for help - that needs to change.

“It’s down to pride – pure and simple,” Adam insisted. “I think as farmers, particularly men, we’re quite traditional and don’t want to admit that we can’t handle things, which was definitely a big problem for me.

“I let things build up instead of talking to Laura about it. We feel like we’re letting our families down and we don’t want to show any weakness to our farming friends and neighbours - keeping up appearances has long been an unwritten rule in this industry. It can’t continue,” he urged.

Adam explained how he personally has managed to keep on top of things in his life, finding a routine to help keep his depression at bay.

“I kind of used a process of trial and error to get where I am now and thankfully it worked out for me. It’s a bit of a cliché, but ‘a healthy body, a healthy mind’ holds a lot of weight with me, and has been one of the key elements in my recovery. So sleep, diet and exercise are important factors in staying well,” he continued. “Regular social interaction and talking to my wife are also very important - I feel if I can do all these things, I can keep depression on the ropes. If I let two or three of these things slide, I give depression the opportunity to get me on the back foot,” he said.

Around eight months ago baby Abel was born, and Adam concluded by explaining the importance of ensuring Abel grows up with an understanding of mental health and a loving family to support him.

“Abel and Laura are the most important things in my life, but unfortunately this love doesn’t mean depression won’t come calling for me again,” he admitted. “By looking after my sleep, my diet, my fitness, my social interaction, I really hope I can significantly reduce the risk, but there are no guarantees.

“I suppose I just try to show them every day how much I care about them so that if I do go through any rough periods it’s not down to them. I also want to educate Abel about mental health so he has a much better grasp of it than my generation has - otherwise the problem will just be continually passed down,” he concluded.

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

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.