SCOTTISH FARMERS have called for an overhaul in the farming support system after a new industry film revealed that government red tape is compounding mental health challenges within agriculture.

‘Unearthing Farming Lives’ – directed by Pink Sphynx Media and supported by NFU Scotland, Samaritans, Robert Gordon University and Aberdeenshire Council – shone a light upon the hidden mental health issues which exist in the industry, featuring candid accounts from well-known farmers.

The message from the film was to seek support as quickly as possible to avoid major challenges down the line. Northeast farmer Tim Johnston shared his struggle with anxiety and panic attacks and how confiding in his family made all the difference.

"It all started with a lack of sleep," he said. "I was having panic attacks in the middle of the night and I'd get up and watch tv all night, but if you carry on like that, it tails on your work life, you can’t do without sleep at night. My wife was nearest to me and could see it the most, she encouraged me to go to a doctor. If I had been left on my own, I would have left it till much later and it would have become significant and impacted my business.

“Struggling with mental health is something people don’t want to admit, but don’t be scared to speak to someone about it. The first conversation is the hardest, once you have had that, whoever you speak to will help or point you to someone who can.”

He stressed that rules and regulations are putting farmers under huge amounts of pressure: “We are getting smaller windows to do jobs on farm, be that sowing, harvesting etc. There is a lot of money standing out in those fields before harvest and it is a relief when you get all that in and safe. The sooner we get a simpler system the better.”

Fellow northeast farmer Kevin Gilbert concurred: “People are checking up on you all the time, it can send you in to a panic. You are under so much pressure for your paperwork to be correct. It doesn’t matter if you are coming in late at night and have to be up first thing to load your pigs, you still have to get filing done – there is no leeway.

“We’re soon going to have a new regime and they (Scottish Government) have a chance to be less draconian in the way that they dish out penalties so hopefully that will help.”

He candidly shared how he came back to work on the family farm and became overwhelmed with all the work he had to do and went to the doctor and was prescribed anti-depressants. Although hesitant at first, he said over time they made a huge difference, especially in the winter when he suffers from seasonal affective disorder – sometimes known as winter depression.

“Each year when your combining you're flat out and when it comes to an end, the day lengths shorten, and you have three months of paperwork that you haven’t done and your stuck in your office isolated with all this mounting paperwork to tackle.”

He added that all the paperwork required of farmers just adds pressure to a pile of other challenges such as the weather, breakdowns of machinery, crop and animal diseases and the fact the job is 24/7.

Kevin stressed that farmers often feel they can’t leave the industry, being struck with a sense of duty to carry on: “If you’re not enjoying farming there is no shame in saying you aren’t anymore,” he said. “You have great skills, why not stop and do something else. Put yourself first and do something else.”

NFU Scotland north east regional manager, Lorna Paterson, has been a driving force behind encouraging farmers to speak more openly about their mental health and was featured in the new film: “Whether you are a farmer, a vet, an agricultural sales manager etc, it is about recognising that you’re not yourself, maybe you don’t feel sociable, you’re really struggling and you need to tell somebody,” she said. “It could be someone in your family or someone in the wider community. If we can get better at this as a farming community, there will be more opportunities to sign post people at as early a stage as possible. Let’s accept we do need help and support. By opening up to someone you are unburdening yourself and you could see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

If you, or someone you know is struggling, The Samaritans Helpline is open 24/7, on 116 123 or 08457 90 90 90 or The RSABI helpline is open every day of the year from 7am to 11pm on 0300 111 4166