THE stresses and strains of modern agricultural life are leaving a terrible legacy of mental ill-health in those connected to the industry – and principal amongst those are worries about red tape and form-filling.

That was one of the main conclusions to come out of last week's NFUS North-east's Mental Health Awareness Forum, held in Inverurie, with more than 100 in the audience.

That government red-tape is a cause of stress to the industry is not now, however, merely anecdotal. A survey of farmers undertaken by researchers from Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen, had proved that a fear of wrong-doing when filling in official documentation was the top ranking feature that stressed farmers out.

Professor Liz Hancock, a vice-principal at RGU, presented the findings of the research project to the meeting. It had aimed to pin down the key factors affecting the wellbeing of farmers in Aberdeenshire and Orkney that undertook the survey. There were 19 in Aberdeenshire and seven in Orkney.

The research team from RGU’s School of Health Sciences and NHS Grampian had been working with the farming community to explore experiences of mental wellbeing and to co-design an intervention aimed at enhancing the wellbeing of the farming population, she said.

The team – led by Professor Kay Cooper, clinical professor of allied health professions at both RGU’s School of Health Sciences and NHS Grampian, and Professor Hancock – conducted a number of interviews based around farmer experiences of mental wellbeing which highlighted four key themes: stress, lifestyle, awareness and perceptions of mental ill-health, and experiences of mental ill-health.

The interviews highlighted that financial concerns, such as profit making, were a key cause of stress for farmers. The farming lifestyle was also found to affect their mental wellbeing in terms of loneliness, isolation, and poor work-life balance.

The team is to use the findings from the interviews and workshops to develop support, co-designed with farmers, to enhance and safeguard their wellbeing for the future.

A key feature was the levels of stress associated with red tape within the farming industry, plus the stigma associated with admitting to problems with mental ill-health. RGU is now seeking funding to put together a plan to develop a farmer-led support intervention service to promote wellbeing in the industry.

Professor Elizabeth Hancock said: “With the support of the NFUS, we are committed to improving the mental health and welfare of farmers across Scotland and will continue working closely with them to co-design an intervention to develop tools to support the mental wellbeing of the farming community.”

Lorna Paterson, NFUS' regional manager, who organised the meeting, added: “We were delighted with the workstreams which we have been involved with in conjunction with NHS Grampian and RGU. We hope the results to date and future projects will help our farmer members understand that they are not alone, and perhaps cope better with mental health issues by reaching out for help.

“Similarly, we would hope that the industry and governments realise that farmers are struggling with all the pressures of form filling; copious inspections; red tape and financial losses due to lack of fairness in the food chain. These factors all serve to increase stress levels and for some farmers it feels like there is no hope and their mental wellbeing falls into a very dark place.”

From the audience, Patrick Sleigh, Bovaglie, Hillhead of Daviot, summed up the thoughts of many, when he said: "Our forefathers have had to endure poor prices and poor harvests brought on by bad weather, but what they did not have to put up with was the red tape and inspections that we now have to put up with.

"In their day, the 'Dept' staff were there to help. Nowadays, it seems that they are there to catch you out, to save money in some way. Dyslexia is also a big problem and it's high time that government departments took all this on board, and accepted the stress that they are putting farmers under.

"Bureaucracy and red tape are making people feel isolated. Government needs to address the cause of the stress that they and other people are placing on the industry," he said.