AS SCOTLAND moves in to a period of political turbulence in the coming months, there has never been a more crucial time to ensure that mental health support remains a firm priority in planning for the future health of Scottish agriculture.

The next generation are key to the success of the sector, but in order to develop and encourage tomorrow’s farming youth, we need to ensure that the importance of mental wellbeing is recognised more widely within the farming community.

Recent research by the Farm Safety Foundation found that 81% of farmers under 40 believe that mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today and 92% believed that promoting good mental health is crucial, if lives are to be saved and farmers kept safe.

Johnathan Glen’s story

One young farmer who agreed with the findings of the research is Jonathan Glen, a dairy farmer in his final year studying agricultural engineering at Harper Adams University.

At the age of 18, he left his home, family and friends to travel to New Zealand to work on a 200-ha dairy farm, managing a herd of 600 cattle. The stress of moving and the impact of working in such an isolated setting, caused great stress for Jonathan, which in turn led to him experiencing a bout of depression.

Sharing his story with The Scottish Farmer, he gave his thoughts on why mental health in young farmers is a growing concern and offered advice and support from his own experience. He urged the farming community to forgo the ‘survive on your own without help’ mentality that he believes so many can be guilty of holding.

“I began farming on my uncle's dairy farm in Ireland and always felt it was going to be the career path for me. I left school at 18 and travelled to New Zealand to pick up skills and knowledge which I hoped I could bring back to the farm.

“It was a struggle at first, arriving in New Zealand straight off the back of school – I was out there on my own, leaving family and friends behind. I found myself with my closest neighbour more than a mile away and my boss living off site from the farm.

“In the first couple of months, I struggled with my mental health. It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life – in school I had periods of depression but the change of routine and stresses I faced in New Zealand put extreme stress on me, pushing me in to a more severe bout of depression.

“On reflection, depression is heredity in my family – I have always genetically been pre-disposed to poor mental health but finding myself working alone with a huge amount of responsibility was one of those instances that tipped the balance. I didn’t have home comforts and the support of my friends and family, and this forced me to recognise that something was wrong.

“I sparked a conversation with a friend of mine in the UK and for some reason we started talking about how I felt, and they turned around and said 'me too'! We started this empathetic narrative about depression, discussing how we were both feeling.

"It started out like an accountability partnership. We monitored each other, despite being 14000 miles away. Knowing that we had each other to check in on how we were doing, it spurred me on to share things throughout our journey – which allowed me to develop a set of tools and techniques that I used to manage my own lifestyle, to then manage my own depression.

“It is important to realise that without help from others, you don’t always have the rational thought process to know that something else is going on. I made some lifestyle changes in New Zealand and soon opportunities arose, and I became herd manager for the rest of the season. I threw myself in to the experience and really enjoyed the rest of my year out there.

“I now have a close group of friends I’m surrounded by who know what I have been through and they keep an eye on me and each other. They would soon spot something was wrong long before I would and that is something very important for people to bear in mind.

“When I returned from New Zealand, I enrolled in a degree in Agricultural Engineering at Harper Adams University and continued to work on the dairy farm during my holidays.

“I’m now in my master’s year at university, with my course due to finish in July. I then plan to take a break and go back to the family farm in Ireland and reinvigorate my passion for the industry before I go on to work as an agricultural engineer.

“My philosophy in life has always been that everything can be improved and as an agricultural engineer I have learnt that we have the powers and methods to improve an entire industry. I see so many opportunities where I can do really good work across the industry both here and abroad and I want to be part of improving our farming sector.”

Struck by the open manner in which Jonathan shared his story with us, I asked why is it so difficult for other young farmers to speak more openly about their own mental health?

“There is definitely something to be said for the power of wisdom and experience when it comes to sharing your story or recognising patterns in behaviour. Individuals who are going through young farmers are probably still very much in the process of experiencing new challenges for the first time and haven’t had the time to be introspective and reflect on what is happening to them.

“This is something which is more likely to come with time as people begin to have more grown up conversations. There is also an element of young people being held back from vital talks on the future travel of Scottish agriculture because of an age discrimination element which is something that needs to vastly change.

“People are slowly beginning to talk about mental health – but one thing that we are noticing at a university level is that impressions are changing. We are seeing more people come forward to student support at higher education institutions and this is bound to increase.

“Sometimes I think it is quite binary which individuals understand mental health and are able to empathise – but there are still a lot of people who see it as unacceptable to talk about it. It is still the case in farming that there is a ‘buckle up and get on with it’ mentality – a willingness to appear tough, but this must change if we are ever to create a culture where people feel comfortable to seek help for their mental health.

“The main advice I can offer others from my own experience is: If you think there is something wrong with you, talk to other people about it. It really is the start of the healing process. If you are asking yourself ‘is my behaviour or the way I’m feeling normal’ then talk to somebody,” he urged.

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.

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