WHILE the B-word might be thought by many to be the defining element of 2019 so far, that just might not be the case. This year has also been a watershed for one of the great blights that has afflicted many generations of farmers – that the industry has a major problem with mental health and especially with suicide rates.

There will not be one person reading this who does not know of someone who has committed suicide. Not one. But there will be very few who have taken it upon themselves to do something about changing this shocking fact. Mostly, we have all turned a blind eye to this 'elephant in the room.'

But maybe not now. That 100 people turned out last week to attend NFUS North-east's excellent Mental Health Awareness Forum, in Inverurie, is testament to a growing perception that things need to change. Ten years ago, there would have been more attendance on the panel, than would have been willing to have been seen in the audience.

It's an equally tragic fact that while a tendency towards ill mental health can be attributed to genetic factors, the majority of such pain can be put down to external factors. No 1, is the stigma attached to admitting that you have problems with your mental well-being; and No 2 will come as no surprise to anyone, and that is the bureaucracy that pervades modern farming life plays a significant role in heightening stress levels.

This would not be so distressing if the various governments and departments who preside and manufacturer that red tape, acknowledged that there is a problem and do something to rectify it. There has to be a move away from the 'them' and 'us' punitive strategy that is in place just now.

As was pointed out last week at the forum, farmers' forebears endured bad prices and poor harvests just as much (maybe even more) than we have today. What has changed is that there's a 'fear' factor not attached to filling in the reams of forms so demanded by the pen pushers and then when the docket comes back with a big red slash through it, leading to an interminable and, for some, unendurable wait until everything is sorted out.

On the face of it ScotGov, has acknowledged that improving the industry's mental health and well-being will be a 'good thing'. But it's all very hip these days to pay lip service to the many problems that mental health issues can bring, but it is very much another thing to be charged with being one of the main causes of them.

Changing that fear factor into one of conciliation and helpfulness ... now that would be a 'good thing.'