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Farmer speaks out about mental health stigma in the industry

For 30 years Kevin Gilbert has suffered from depression after taking over the family farm.

Speaking out: Farmer Kevin Gilbert suffers from depression. STV

For 30 years Kevin Gilbert has suffered from depression.

It manifests itself mainly during the winter months and has been “on and off” for three decades.

When he returned to his family farm at the age of 22, his father was in the final stages of liver cancer.

Mr Gilbert said: “He only survived another eight weeks and he was a first-generation farmer and he’d built up quite a large business and I found it quite a struggle to manage the farm all of a sudden.”

Although there was no pressure to take over the farm, Mr Gilbert struggled for years with only his close family and friends knowing.

Working in isolation and the volatility of the livelihood they’re involved in, mean many farmers struggle with their mental health.

Mr Gilbert said: “There’s pressure from all sides, poor margins and there is always weather problems.

“It is a business and there are bills throughout the year and the nature of farming, especially livestock farming, there is a lumpiness in the income.

“You’ve only got income at certain times of the year; that can be a struggle.”

Many farmers are seeking help for their mental health but the statistics put into sharp focus the challenge that remains for the industry.

According to the rural charity Farm Safety Foundation, on average one farmer in the UK every week will take their own life.

Four out of five farmers under the age of 40-years-old believe mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today.

Mr Gilbert believes there is a stigma surrounding it.

He said: “Back a few years people didn’t speak about cancer and now everyone is quite open about cancer, but still now there is a lack of openness about mental health and I still think there is a stigma there.”

It was that “lack of openness” that has led to Mr Gilbert speaking out and encouraging others to seek help and not to suffer in silence.

Like all society, the struggle with mental health cuts across the farming divides: Young and old, small scale and large, and family farms and first-generation farmers.

The Scottish Association of Young Farmers has now launched Are Ewe Okay? – a campaign which aims to tackle the stigma and get young people and their families to open up about their mental health.

The National Rural Mental Health Forum was also created to help tackle the issue in some of Scotland’s most remote communities.

Its convener, Jim Hume, said often living in a rural location can mean getting help can be more challenging.

He said: “You can be quite far away from some services and there is a lack of anonymity, where people know your own business can mean that farmers can feel unable to come forward in their communities.”

He also believes others have a duty to look out for the signs.

He added: “If you see behaviour changes in some of your friends or colleagues don’t be frightened to approach them and ask if they’re okay.

“We can all do a little bit to help to tackle mental health in rural Scotland.”

The overall illness rate for agricultural workers is more than 40% higher than the industry average.

There is little doubt it can be a dangerous and difficult business.

As an industry it has some serious challenges ahead, but tackling its relationship with mental health might be one of its biggest yet.

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