ISOLATION is a major factor in the mental health issues arising across the length and breadth of rural Scotland.

Of the men and women who completed an in-depth mental health survey circulated by the SRUC, 67% reported suffering depression, and a shocking 22% admitted to suicidal thoughts and feelings.

These were some of the preliminary findings described by Professor Sarah Skerratt from the SRUC's Rural Policy Centre to meetings of the National Rural Mental Health forum and the Scottish Parliament’s cross party group on rural policy.

In June last year, SRUC and national mental health charity, Support in Mind Scotland, brought together rural and mental health organisations and service users, in Dumfries and Inverness, to help prepare an online national survey of people experiencing mental ill health issues across rural Scotland, the first time such a survey had been run.

Professor Skerratt said: “A key finding was that mental illness was experienced equally by both men and women. Another issue was the stress and possible barriers that difficulties with rural transport and communications create for those seeking help.

"While sometimes the greater sense of community in rural areas can be a positive advantage, low population density can make setting up anonymous support groups very difficult," she noted. “People fear stigma and so creating networks with people they trust is critical.”

The release of the initial report findings followed the announcement by cabinet secretary for rural economy Fergus Ewing of a £25K funding package to help Support in Mind Scotland develop the National Rural Mental Health forum.

Prof Skerratt added: “As part of SRUC’s rural Scotland in focus process, we became increasingly aware that the picture around rural mental health was patchy and mostly anecdotal.

“But we are not specialists in mental health and so partnering with the charity SiMS that has outreach in rural areas made sure our survey work was tailored to people experiencing mental ill health. It meant we could bring people to the table who were both rural experts and mental health service users.

“If I was asked to say what the one take-home message is, it would be this: that people want to create ways to connect before their personal crises occur, preferably in non-clinical settings and ideally in their locality. There’s a real emphasis, from the islands in the north and west, to the mainland areas in the south, on talking and connecting being essential in helping to address isolation that comes with rural living."

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick commented: “The preliminary research undertaken by SRUC on behalf of the National Rural Mental Health forum is an important first step in understanding some of the trends and challenges that remoteness – either perceived or real – can present for mental health sufferers based in rural areas.

“From the survey results we also note that the profile of the average Scottish farmer – male, and aged over 55 – is one of the least represented groups in terms of speaking about mental health issues. One in four Scots will be impacted by mental health issues at some point in their lifetime and therefore it is vital that we encourage discussion amongst our membership, and the wider rural community to remove some of the stigma that still surrounds mental health."

The full report of the SRUC/SiMS project will be published this Easter.