SCOTLAND'S FARMERS have stepped up across the country to respond in new and innovative ways to the current pandemic which has swept the nation.

Despite the resilience demonstrated by farmers once again, it is pertinent to send a reminder during Mental Health Awareness Week that during these difficult times – where many are isolating from loved ones and facing pressures out-with their control – that more than ever we need to look after our mental-wellbeing. 

Scotland’s beautiful and diverse countryside is a haven for many, but also brings long, hard days of graft which can often feel unrewarded when we hear news of milk price cuts and cheap imports of meat.

The loss of the show circuit is devastating, with local and national agricultural shows serving as an important time for farmers to come together, let off steam and catch up with the wider farming fraternity. 

Make sure to take advantage of virtual platforms to share social catch-ups with friends and check in on your fellow farmers who may not be so easily connected with the web or modern-day technologies.

This pandemic has shown the sheer strength and versatility of our industry and the public are more engaged than ever with where their food comes from, through a huge uptake in direct buying behaviour, and long may this continue.

Keep a look-out for one another during these testing times – a simple conversation and a listening ear can go a long way in supporting someone with their struggles.


A FORMER dairy farmer’s brave battle with depression has served as an important message to the farming community to communicate more openly when they are struggling with their mental health.

Bobby Stevenson, from Lendalfoot, sold his farm a year ago after a four-year battle with depression, which led to him being institutionalised in a psychiatric ward on two occasions. 

Having received support from a farmer’s daughter working within the mental health sector, he has since been able to come out the other side and is determined for other farmers to know it is possible.

He feels, however, that there are changes needed in both government health policy and farming insurance policies, which could help the industry tackle what he fears is becoming an increasingly pressing issue. 

The Scottish Farmer:

The Stevenson's had farmed at Meadowpark in Ballantrae for over 50 years

The Stevenson’s had farmed in Ballantrae since 1965 and seven years ago invested in an extra 180 acres of land which took their total up to 600. 

“Land doesn’t come up often in the parish,” Bobby told the SF. “I wanted to have more options available for my boys if they later decided to take on the farm and at that point the milk price was looking good, for some farmers it went from 25p to 35p per litre.”

Unfortunately, no sooner were things looking up, then the milk crash of 2014 hit and suddenly Bobby was only getting in the teens per litre for his milk. During the stress of keeping things afloat on the farm, Bobby had a stroke in the October, 2014, and afterwards he said he never felt the same.

“I lost my ability to manage things. Everything kept building up and suddenly even little things I would not have noticed before became huge upsets. I thought it was a failing on myself that I had gotten into this state and couldn’t bring myself to even go to the market – sending family members in my place.

“Around that time, salesmen visits to the farm were few and far between but one particular man noticed my struggle and intervened. He saw I was struggling with even simple admin’ tasks and took it upon himself to order replacement tags for the cattle before they went out to grass and even organised help to come in and tag them. He went above and beyond his duty and I will never forget his kindness.” 

Bobby went to see his doctor as he wasn’t sleeping and having known him for years, his doctor knew something wasn’t quite right if he had made an appointment in the first place. He refused the offer of anti-depressants, as he was worried that he was already on so much medication for his stroke and was instead referred to see a mental health nurse for counselling. 

“I remember saying to the doctor, ‘farmers work 5am to 9pm, not 9am to 5pm and the human body isn’t built to cope with that’, but I’ve been doing it for 35 years. When he asked me why I did it, I said ‘that as long as the public is prepared to pay more for water than milk in the supermarket, I had no choice but to keep working at this level’.”

Over the following weeks, Bobby felt like pressures never seemed to ease on the farm, explaining that if it wasn’t BVD testing, it was constant red tape and he was also worried about the future of the farm, as both sons had chosen different career paths.

Bobby was once again offered anti-depressants by his doctor when things didn’t appear to improve and started on a course of Trazodone. On January 13, 2016, he was admitted to Crosshouse Hospital but discharged himself after a couple of nights.  Later that month, he was admitted to the Ailsa, in Ayr, where he was looked after for three weeks for his own protection.

“When I went into hospital my wife, Val, was a primary teacher and was signed off to support me on full pay. There are different principles in the education system than those which we go by in agriculture. Farmers are often self-employed and are not geared up to instantly find replacements to feed or milk their cattle. Finding staff is getting harder and harder these days. 

“I was so lucky when I was going through difficulty that my neighbours were a huge support – they came in and clipped cattle and organised my TB test when I couldn’t face up to it. Poor mental health needs to be treated the same as cancer, because it is an illness which eats away at you and has led to people within the industry taking their own life.”

In January, 2018, Val contacted a family friend who had been through similar struggles with their mental health during foot-and-mouth in 2001. He came to visit Bobby and talked of his success with the drug Venlafaxine and thought it may be worth a try. 

“I spoke to my GP about this and he was surprised I had not tried it,” Bobby continued. “Medication was limited because of my stroke, but it was agreed I should start a course of Venlafaxine and it seemed to suit me better.”

In May, 2018, he was readmitted for a week into Woodland View Psychiatric Hospital, in Irvine, where he was referred to someone with a background in farming who ultimately ‘changed his life’.

“She was the daughter of an Irish farmer and was able to get me to see the bigger picture and life beyond farming. I had told her that I lived by the mantra of ‘you have to farm as if you’ll farm forever and live as if you’ll die tomorrow’, which she helped me to see wasn’t true. 

“She was able to understand all the things I was worried about and helped me realise that I had to change my environment if I wanted to get better.”

Bobby came off his anti-depressants in February, 2020, having sold the farm the previous June, 2019. Reflecting on his whole experience he said: “Mental health is not to be swept under the carpet, the pressures in farming are huge but tackling them head on and surrounding yourself with the right support can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“At one stage, when I was at my lowest point, I couldn’t get out of bed and it was Val who convinced me. 27 years ago she stood by me in the church and said ‘I do, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health’, and I am so grateful that she really meant it that day and has stuck by me through this whole ordeal.” 

The Scottish Farmer:

Bobby and Monty have adjusted well to life in Lendalfoot Ref:RH1405200053  

Bobby went on to share a couple of things that he thinks would make a big difference to supporting other farmers struggling with their own issues with mental health.

“There is still a huge stigma attached to mental health in farming and this isn’t helped by insurance companies that across the board discriminate between physical and mental health when it comes to claims. 

“My personal experience with the NFU Mutual was that they would not pay out as I had been on anti-depressants. I hadn’t mentioned this at my review but even if I had, I would not be covered. I thought perhaps a higher premium, as with travel insurance, for a pre-existing condition. But no. I have been told this is the case throughout the insurance industry.

“There are campaigns all over the place encouraging farmers to step up and speak out about mental health to defeat the stigma, but when it comes down to paying money out for someone who can’t work due to a mental health condition they will look for a potential get out clause.

“I was insured for £30,000 to cover two years of a replacement milker and when I was in the hospital being treated for my depression, I was told that I wasn’t covered and was later given a token payment of less than £5000.”

Bobby believed that for a lot of farmers in that position, not receiving a financial pay-out could be the final straw to break the camel’s back. Stressing that adding extra money troubles to a farmers plate is the last thing they need when they should be taking time off to fully recover. 

“I was lucky that our business could stand to cover the time I was unwell, but not all farmers will be in the same boat.”

Looking back on his decision to sell the family farm in June, 2019, he stands by his decision: “I have no regrets and this was made even clearer during the Christmas of 2018 when my oldest boy, Adam, left home to return to Glasgow and told Val it was the first time he had been on the road back and hadn’t cried through this whole ordeal.”

Bobby concluded by stressing that if mental health is addressed at an earlier stage then medication wouldn’t necessarily be needed: “We’re not needing millions spent on a new drug to cure it. This is about communicating and talking more openly. 

“A conversation with someone can be so important and it was a conversation with a doctor who understood my pain and the challenges I faced that set me on the road to recovery.”


Mr Stevenson has been working closely with NFU Scotland in Ayrshire and RSABI to look at ways in which earlier detection of poor mental health by the health service could save lives in farming.

NFUS Ayrshire regional manager, Christine Cuthbertson, explained what plans are afoot to address this: “We have met with the Scottish minister for mental health, Clare Haughey, about the idea of improving links between the farming community and health professionals by creating farming champions within the health service. 

“These would be people who have a background or solid knowledge of the pressures facing farming, who other NHS professionals could speak to and improve their understanding of issues facing the sector.”

The minister was keen to take this forward and had intended to visit a farm in Ayrshire this June, but plans have been put on ice with the current pandemic. There are also plans to build on the mental health workshops similar to the one held at Dumfries House, in the region, once restrictions are lifted.


“We understand this has been a very difficult time for Mr Stevenson,” said a spokesperson for NFU Mutual. “The way that society deals with mental illness has made great strides over the last five years and mental health is a key priority for NFU Mutual.

“We welcome Mr Stevenson’s feedback from his experience in 2016. We are currently looking at the ways we support our customers with mental illness as an insurer, as well as increasing our support for the Farm Safety Foundation (a charity founded and funded by NFU Mutual) to help both the mental and physical wellbeing of the farming community. 

“It is only in respect of our Personal Accident policies and our Travel Insurance policies that we take physical and mental health into account in agreeing to and continuing with cover. This is standard across the industry for these two types of policies. 

“Some pre-existing conditions may not see any change in cover at all, other conditions can improve which is why it is important to review and update information. 

“As with many insurers, it’s important to let us know about pre-existing physical and mental health conditions. Every case will be different, and this helps us to understand and address people’s needs. 

“Where claims are concerned, no matter what type of policy is involved, we will take into account any person who may be considered vulnerable, for example because of their mental health. 

“If a risk presented is outside of our risk appetite, we can signpost where a person can look further to obtain the cover they are seeking.

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 contact 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

Scottish Association of Mental Health – 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 (National Rural Mental Health Forum) Call on 0131 662 4359 Mon – Fri between 9am – 5pm or

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