IN THIS fifth article of our Mind Your Health series, we have decided to look at the impact of living rurally on young people throughout Scotland and how this has also played in to wider concerns for mental health.

As explored in previous articles, the isolation that comes with living in a remote location can have a detrimental effect when it comes to people seeking support. Also, the lack of anonymity which is well known in a rarified sphere, such as farming, can force people to withdraw and this is something which can be amplified living in Scotland’s rural island communities – as we will hear from one young islander, who has experienced her own journey coping with poor mental health.

There is an ageing crisis affecting rural Scotland, as more and more young people are choosing to vacate rural life and opt for the city lights. Depopulation of rural areas isn’t just a problem affecting the farming industry but the wider rural economy in a range of areas such as tourism and food and drink.

Christy McFarlane works for Bruichladdich distillery, in Islay, where her role in PR and communications brings her in to contact with the wider distilling process and the farmers who supply barley for their range of whisky products.

She has been working at Bruichladdich for 3½years, but before she decided to settle full-time in Islay, she spent five years studying in Edinburgh. Like many young people, from an early age she had a desire to leave rural island living behind and explore city life. However, Christy’s motivations to leave Islay were also due to a difficult childhood, which impacted on her mental health and a family tragedy in her penultimate year of university, that pushed her emotional resilience to the limit.

Despite not coming from farming stock, Christy understands the pressures faced by young people living and working in a rural location and the lack of anonymity that comes with being surrounded by a tight-knit community. She delivers a clear message: that rural life does bring with it challenges which can be a real deterrent to an ambitious youngster, however, there are so many positives to be had from fully engaging and throwing yourself in to rural life.

Christy’s story: Difficulties of coping with isolation

“I had a very happy childhood growing up on Islay, with loving parents who worked very hard so we could have a high standard of living and two older brothers that I was forever exploring with – I never felt alone.

“When I turned 13, everything went haywire. My parents separated and at the time, my eldest brother was at college, disconnected from us all and my other brother left shortly after to start a new family with his girlfriend, and I was left to cope with such a big change alone.

“I was passed back and forth between my parents, as dad worked offshore, but eventually had a big fallout with my mum and ended up living with my grandparents for a while. In general, I found it stressful to be a teenager, going through all the normal stresses and strains, plus family life being difficult and not having many friends who understood what I was going through.

“I reacted to things by being more mature, so while everyone was having fun, I was miserable and anxious. I struggled with my own self-image and esteem – I didn’t fit in with the other girls – I was very tall with red hair and black eyebrows and often felt awkward and gangly.

“I was always struck by this feeling of wanting to fit in and have a boyfriend like everyone else, which became an ongoing theme for the next decade, particularly in tricky times when everyone else seemed to have someone. With everything going on at home, I wanted to have an escape, someone to share things with and living in a small place like Islay, everyone knows your business, there is no anonymity which was difficult.

“Like so many young people living on an island in Scotland, there weren’t many opportunities locally to study and I saw this as my chance to leave rural life behind and escape to the city – have a fresh start. When I was 17, I moved to Edinburgh University which was a real shock at first, moving from a small island community where everyone knows you to a massive city where you are suddenly a small fish in a huge pond.

“It was a real challenge at first coming to terms with how students from cities approached education – it was so obvious that I’d come from an island where learning was more of a common-sense approach, using practical intelligence, where in Edinburgh I was surrounded by academics.

“Being used to the steady pace of island life and the comforts it holds, my body took a real hammering adjusting to university life, never quite finding a good pattern and I began to suffer from bad insomnia.

“I came home that first Christmas and I was all over the place. I felt extremely overwhelmed, my brain wasn’t working properly, and my mum assumed my erratic behaviour might be due to taking drugs. She had a doctor visit me, which after a few poor decisions, resulted in me being heavily sedated and taken to a mental health unit on the mainland.

They ran tests on me when I arrived and it was quickly determined that I was severely sodium deficient and lacking in sleep, and I was released within 24 hours.

“The miscommunication between myself and my mum impacted on an already broken relationship. I stayed with my dad during my recovery and with his support I got back in to a good pattern and went back to university. All went relatively smoothly over the next few years.

“During my penultimate year at university, my dad died and my world fell apart. The day it happened I was working two full time jobs to make enough money to make it through my final year and during my day shift at the visitor’s centre, I checked my phone to find 17 missed calls. I eventually received word that my dad had been hit off the side of his motorcycle and had been airlifted to the hospital in Glasgow and I rushed through as quick as I could to see him.

“My brothers, aunty and grandparents were all sitting waiting in the hospital when I arrived and all I could think was, this can’t be it. It’s hard to put in to words the feeling of losing the person who means the most to you in the world – my dad was my best friend and we had such a strong relationship. He got me through everything and had been there for me during some really difficult times.

“After the funeral, I had to go back to university and write my dissertation and carry on as normal, despite feeling depressed and isolated from my family. Everything else that had happened in my life up until that point I could see a way out of, but I felt like the carpet had been ripped from under my feet as there was nothing I could do, to fill that feeling of helplessness, nothing would get him back.

“I regret now not seeking mental health support at the time as it would have been really helpful during my grieving process. Being from a rural community and growing up in a male dominated house, we had never discussed mental health and talking about our feelings had always been seen as a weakness.

“As a family we were so worried about the repercussions which would come from airing our dirty laundry in public that we adopted a private stiff upper lip. I was quite open to talking about my feelings to a few close family members though, and my brothers were an absolute godsend, I was so lucky to have them.

“When it comes to improving the provision of mental health support in rural Scotland, I don’t think there has been enough of a push by the government and I don’t think services have really reached Islay and other island communities. I know people who have experienced complete mental health breakdowns and haven’t been able to get access to the likes of counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.

“The main message I want to deliver is that living in a rural community, when something really tragic happens, can be really hard – especially with mental health, as you can feel affected in a way that people attach labels to you. But everyone eventually forgets and you must be able to move on and laugh about these things.

“Yes, the lack of anonymity is tough, as people know your business, however, having a community around you where there are people you can really trust and speak to is such an amazing position to be in. What may at first appear as a negative, can soon become a positive – having a total support network around you.

“I’m now back living in Islay and working full-time at Bruichladdich and have an amazing support network between colleagues, family and my boyfriend. I now very much see the positives of living in a rural community which I didn’t as a kid.

“I no longer feel trapped but feel supported and I think it is important for a lot of young people living in similar remote locations to recognise that there is a real comfort that can come from a familiar safe environment. Despite the rollercoaster of emotional events which have played out in the course of my life, I’ve sort of found the strength to work myself out of difficult situations. You really have to want to get there though, a lot of it is down to your own will. It might sound a bit morbid, but having experienced what I hope is the worst, there’s a weird comfort that I can cope with anything thrown at me.”

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 Mon-Fri between 9-5.

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