President's Blog - 20 May 2020

As farmers and crofters, we give a lot of attention to our livestock and crops but unfortunately that same care does not always extend to our own wellbeing writes NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick.

If there is one thing we have learned over the past few years, it is that mental health issues do not discriminate; they can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, geography, income, social status, sexual orientation or culture.

It is Mental Health Awareness Week and there are many mental health risk factors in agriculture. We work long hours, often in isolation. We can be under significant financial pressure from poor returns and increasing costs. In most cases, our place of business is also our home, meaning there is no easy way to get away from the workload.

In addition, we are constantly vulnerable to unusual events and circumstances that can impact our bottom line — from weather and natural disasters, farm inspections, animal health checks and add to that the uncertainty of Brexit and now Covid-19.

The following are the words of a young farmer in Staffordshire who was dealing with his own mental health issues and willing to talk about it.

“Unfortunately, there are so many personal and mental challenges you have to navigate in the modern-day culture and settings. It’s nearly impossible to do something for yourself or make a decision without being verbally criticised, from either the people surrounding you or knowing there are many people doing so silently.”

It is a sad indictment of our society that people are believing, feeling or thinking this. To my mind, this is driven by the polarisation of opinion to extreme views.
unsympathetic to others and most probably fuelled by social media’s remote anonymity.  

As an industry, we have a collective responsibility to do something about the issue of poor mental health and the risk of suicide.

Every one of us has a role to play. Increased understanding, and discussions around mental health will, in time, reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by those who have mental health issues.

You may feel very happy to tell your friends about a physical injury you’ve had, but when it comes to changes in your mental health, people can keep this to themselves through fear of being treated differently or judged. It is important to create a culture in farming that promotes positive mental health, prevents people from experiencing mental ill health and helps them better manage mental health problems. Let’s work to destigmatise this collectively.

One of the ways to do this is to ensure everyone can talk about mental health but it is also essential to know how to provide support.  This might include knowing how to spot the warning signs and being confident to signpost colleagues to the support available.  Getting help as early as possible can literally mean the difference between life and death.

There may be some signs:

  • the state of the farm (things not getting done)
  • the condition of the animals (not being looked after, passports/tag issues)
  • the upkeep of the farmhouse (no heating, unopened mail)
  • the attitude of the farmer/crofter themselves (uncooperative, irritable, alcohol, quiet, angry)

The list could be endless!

The best thing to do… and to make a habit of doing is asking are you okay – brilliantly captured by SAYFC in its #AreEweOkay and #AreEweAware campaign and website.   And the question doesn’t need to be about their mental wellbeing.

How about

  • So what pressure are you under this week?
  • When was the last time you had a visitor?
  • When did you last speak to your family and friends?
  • How’s the workload?

Just try and ask an open question so it stimulates conversation. Then listen and don’t judge.

I had a sinking feeling of inadequacy when I met a farmer with real issues and, shortly afterwards, spoke to another on the phone in a similar place.

I could tell that these people were in a bad way, and I took time to listen to them, but I didn’t have a clue how to get them help. It wasn’t that I didn’t know there was help through the likes of our fantastic rural charity RSABI, but I didn’t know how to broach the subject and it should have been as simple as asking the questions above.

Now I know that, whatever I do, I will not be doing nothing and even if I must call and get advice on what to do then I will and go back.

RSABI have helped an increasing number of farm and crofting businesses already this year.  The earlier they can be involved the better. RSABI have a helpline that will call farmers to keep them safe until they get a case officer out (normally within a day or two). The RSABI support and advice – available on the helpline number 0300 111 4166 - is invaluable in helping people move forward.

If you are worried about someone, ask if it’s ok to get RSABI to call them and they will take it from there, or ask them to make the call.

It could be life changing.

More details on RSABI available at:

More details on SAYFC #AreEweOkay at:

More than 160 people joined the National Rural Mental Health Forum online for its recent May meeting.  More details on the forum at:

Author: Andrew McCornick

Date Published:

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Andrew Moir

1434 days ago

Good article Andrew with some good advice on asking "open questions" i will certainly keep those in mind. Andrew.
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About The Author

Andrew McCornick

Andrew, who is married with three sons and a daughter, was born and brought up on a dairy farm in Wigtown. Andrew and wife Janice farm their 230+ ha unit with 160 suckler cows and 600 breeding ewes with a small herd of pedigree Charolais cattle. Andrew's sons farm a nearby tenanted unit which frequently provides replacement breeding stock for Barnbackle. For as long as Andrew can remember, he has been a member of the Union, and got more involved when the consultation for Nithsdale NVZ came out. From there he went onto become vice chairman of the Dumfries branch, and then onto his previous role of Regional Board Chairman for Dumfries and Galloway. He also sat on the LFASS committee. Andrew was elected Vice President in February 2015.

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