POOR MENTAL health is now viewed as one of the biggest concerns facing our agricultural sector – with one farmer being lost to suicide every week in the UK.

Despite increased awareness campaigns, farmers are still struggling to seek support for their mental health, often placing their own needs at the bottom of the pile and putting on a brave face for their family.

Many farmers and farm workers live a hugely solitary life, working long hours – often on their own – for little reward and with little respite – a situation which has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the cancellation of social gatherings and events over the last year.

The challenges facing farmers are mostly out with their control, poor weather can ruin that year’s harvest and falling livestock prices could severely threaten the bottom line – and that is barely scratching the surface.

Farming charity RSABI recognises the increasing pressures facing the industry and provides emotional, practical, and financial support to individuals and their families across the whole agricultural sector.

During the first lockdown, demand for RSABI’s helpline service increased significantly. Incoming calls were averaging around 50 a month, with a further 150 outbound support calls being made each month.

Although agriculture has not been impacted by Covid to the same degree as other parts of Scottish industry, the recent poor weather and ‘Covid fatigue’ has taken its toll, with new client numbers increasingly steadily. RSABI reported that case officers are providing valuable support to around 175 households per month, with cases varied.

Last May, RSABI launched the #KeepTalking campaign to encourage farmers, crofters and others involved in agriculture to make the time to pick up the phone, or chat online, to connect with other people.

A year on from when the pandemic first began, this message remains pertinent, with restrictions of some form likely to last for many months yet.

With lambing underway across the country, this can mean long tiresome days for the farming fraternity and it is more important than ever to monitor stress levels and to look out for warning signs in those around you.

The SF has teamed up with RSABI to bring our readers case stories from individuals who have struggled with their mental health and with the support of the charity, have been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaking up and seeking out support is the first step towards getting back on track and we urge our readers not to shy away or avoid reaching out if you are struggling.

The following story is representative of a typical RSABI case and the support provided by the charity. All names and some of the particulars have been changed to maintain confidentiality.

This is Bob’s story:

Bob was struggling since the loss of his wife. He had no motivation to keep going on the farm.

His son had called RSABI after he noticed the state of the farm and the house – and he got his dad’s permission for us to call.

We visited Bob on his own. He admitted he was struggling with his wife’s death and had fallen behind with the paperwork that she used to do. The house was cold and Bob was in a low mood.

He was overwhelmed with grief and felt there was so much to do, and he wasn’t doing any of it. He hadn’t talked to his children, as he didn’t want them to know he wasn’t coping. We chatted about the farm and how he wanted his future to be and he admitted he did not want to spend the next 20 years farming now that his wife wasn’t here. He also admitted he wasn’t sleeping.

We talked about speaking to his GP but he wasn’t keen to do that. Talked about the business and options he may have for that going forward. Talked about his wife and the chatted about life since she had died. Looked at what needed done and broke it down into small chunks which he felt more able to deal with.

We called Bob daily for the next couple of weeks to make sure he was okay and if he was managing to get some things done. We organised a business review to look at options for the farm to allow him more time for himself.

Then we talked to the Land Matching service to see what opportunities were available too and organised a qualified counsellor to call him to talk about his grief and he found that really helpful.

We had a meeting with the business consultant and Bob, and he is to think about his next steps now that he has options. We call every month now just to make sure he is doing ok and he is still seeing the counsellor.

He said that he doesn’t know where he would be if we hadn’t been in touch and although he still misses his wife, he has started to look at the future a bit more positively.

* If you, or someone you know, is struggling please call the RSABI helpline on 0300 111 4166. The helpline is open every day of the year from 7am to 11pm.

RSABI and The Scottish Farmer

At The Scottish Farmer we fully appreciate the work done by RSABI during crisis times, like the one we are in just now where lockdown and a lack of social interaction is affecting the mental health of so many people.

To show our support to the fantastic efforts of this charitable organisation we're offering a special subscription package tied to RSABI. Signing up to this includes an individual donation, on your behalf, to become part of the RSABI individual supporter scheme. It's a great and easy way to show support for this great organisation – and get your favourite farming newspaper!

A one year subscription costs £134, with two years priced at £244 – both prices include a RSABI supporter scheme donation. Go on-line at www.thescottishfarmer.co.uk and visit the subscriptions page or phone 0141 302 7718 and quote the offer code 4659 to take advantage of this deal.