For too long mental health has been a taboo subject and in our rural communities the lack of anonymity, in that “everyone knows everyone”, has made it even more difficult for people to seek help at an early stage.
The National Rural Mental Health Forum has grown in strength from 16 membership organisations to more than 60 within the past 18 months, and is acting on evidence of a willingness from our rural communities to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Now we are seeing mental health and wellbeing coming to the top of the agenda for organisations that have long been interested in more traditional industry priorities.
This was obvious at the recent National Farmers’ Union of Scotland’s (NFUS) autumn conference in Birnam, when mental health was given prominent billing alongside subjects such as land use, alternative crops and satellite technology.
As convener of the National Rural Mental Health Forum, I was joined by mental health campaigner and author Graham Morgan, who has lived experience of mental ill-health and Mags Granger of the charity that supports people in the agricultural community, RSABI.
Graham explained: “It can be hard to get time to be with family and friends and to just relax and that the idea of a mental health day off because you cannot face the snow in the morning is just plain ludicrous. That getting access to someone to talk about the stress you are under would feel just plain impossible when you have a field to plough or animals to tend to and hardly any signal to your mobile. That there can be that tension of how to pass on a loved business, land and a home to your children and equally sometimes a tension from your children as to whether they want to take it on, that the weather can be bleak, the night cold, the mud clingy and your eyes red raw with tiredness.”
“It is a pretty obvious thing to say, but you have a right to get help when you struggle to cope and a right not to be so alone when life is difficult.
“Mental illness, depression, anxiety, that dark night we sometimes inhabit, we can and do feel ashamed of it but there is no need to, it is as natural a part of life as anything else and something most of us experience.
“To hide it away, to say that it is shameful; that is a strange reaction really. Such things are far better addressed in some fashion, what fashion that might be is of course very individual.”
NFUS president Andrew McCornick said: “Speaking about mental health and wellbeing is something we have never really been known for in the farming sector, usually preferring to keep quiet and get on with things rather than seeking help when we are feeling low. This is not the healthy response and I am pleased to say I think the culture around mental health in farming is beginning to change.
“The best thing you can do for your family, your farm and yourself is to be open about the stresses and anxieties which we are all susceptible to in our high pressure industry.
“The work of the National Rural Mental Health Forum has never been more important, which is why I am so pleased to sit on it on behalf of NFU Scotland’s members.”
It is encouraging to see that rural communities have now put mental health on top of their agenda and are using their networks, magazines and events to normalise talking about our mental health.
Evidence of that was the NFUS conference. We had organisations from farming, forestry, fishing, crofting and conservation as members, all getting together to examine ways of tackling mental ill health and improving wellbeing in areas that are often far from traditional services.
Much work is to be done, and the forum is dedicated to working with its partners to improve mental health and wellbeing support in rural Scotland, make it an everyday discussion topic, ensure decision-makers realise and act on the fact that it does happen in rural areas too, and that we have a vibrant, growing network of organisations acting together to address mental health in rural Scotland.
The forum was set up by the mental health charity Support in Mind Scotland, who support 1,300 individuals from across Scotland every week, over 80 per cent of whom are in rural areas.
They have more than 45 years’ experience in looking after those experiencing mental ill health and run 17 services.
The forum has public, private and third sector organisations involved, including government departments, expert mental health organisations and organisations that represent many rural communities, including farming, fishing, forestry, crofting and conservation. All focusing on improving mental health and wellbeing in rural Scotland.
The National Rural Mental Health Forum has been developed and run by the mental health charity, Support in Mind Scotland and is supported by the Scottish Government.
Forum membership can be found at: www.ruralwellbeing.org/partners
Jim Hume, convener of the National Rural Mental Health Forum, Support in Mind Scotland.