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Project examines mental health issues in the farming community

By David Porter

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A research project at Robert Gordon University (RGU) which explored the mental wellbeing of Scotland’s farmers has found that stress and lifestyle are key factors affecting the wellbeing of farmers from Aberdeenshire and Orkney.

A team of researchers from RGU’s School of Health Sciences and NHS Grampian have been working with the farming community to explore their experiences of mental wellbeing and to co-design an intervention aimed at enhancing the wellbeing of the farming population.

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 Liz Hancock, RGU’s Vice-Principal for Academic Development and Student Experience – 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.

Professor Kay Cooper said they are using the findings from the interviews and workshops to develop support, co-designed with farmers, to enhance and safeguard their wellbeing for the future.

She said: “This study aimed to explore the mental wellbeing of Scotland’s farming population by working closely with farmers to better understand the scale of the challenge farming faces and what might be done to improve it.

“Levels of stress in the industry are thought to be increasing and throughout some interviews, we learnt more about the personal experiences of mental-ill health and at times the use of unhelpful coping mechanisms.

“Some had reached out for support from the Rural Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RSABI), and most farmers interviewed were aware of some of the more general campaigns about mental health and wellbeing.

“However, it was clear that there is still some stigma associated with admitting to problems with mental wellbeing.

“Following the interviews we have been working in partnership with the farming community in Aberdeenshire and Orkney through co-designed workshops in Aberdeen and Orkney. “This work is ongoing, and we plan to develop a farmer-led support intervention to promote wellbeing and provide support within this vital community.”

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

The findings were presented at the NFU Scotland inaugural Mental Health Conference, which aims to drive forward health and well-being in the farming community by bringing them together to hear from those who have overcome difficult times while running a farming business.

Regional Manager at NFU Scotland, Lorna Paterson said: “We are delighted with the workstreams which we have been involved with, in conjunction with NHS Grampian and RGU.

“We hope the results of the findings 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.”

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