A first of its kind survey by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) highlighted an ‘invaluable insight’ into the life of those with mental ill health in rural Scotland.

Of those surveyed, 67 per cent said they suffered depression, 22 per cent admitted to suicidal thoughts and of the 12 per cent who described self-harming behaviour, the majority were under 24-years-old.

Prof Sarah Skerratt of the SRUC rural policy centre said a key finding was that mental illness was experienced equally by men and women. She said the ‘take home message’ was that people often wanted to create ways to connect before their personal crises occurred.

Survey Statistics

67% suffered depression

22% had suicidal thoughts

12% described self-harming behaviour

“While sometimes the greater sense of community in rural areas can be a positive advantage, low population density can make setting up anonymous support groups very difficult,” Ms Skerratt said. “People fear stigma and so creating networks with people they trust is critical. There is a real emphasis, from the islands in the north and west, to the mainland areas in the south, on talking and connecting being essential in helping to address isolation that comes with rural living.” She said the picture around rural mental health was ‘patchy’ and ‘mostly anecdotal’.

The findings from the survey, prepared in conjunction with national health charity Support in Mind Scotland (SiMS), were put forward to meetings with the National Rural Health Forum and the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on rural policy earlier this week. It followed the announcement from Fergus Ewing, cabinet secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, of a £25K funding package to help develop the National Rural Mental Health Forum.

Farming officials championed the work of Support in Mind Scotland and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) who for the first time encouraged farmers and crofters to speak up about life with a mental illness in a recent survey.

Ceredigion beef and sheep farmer Helen Howells, 33, backed the campaign and said it gave hope to ‘many of us who feel uncomfortable talking about this kind of thing’. She said: “Farming is often a solitary profession, which reinforces the importance of marts, vets’ surgeries, agricultural merchants and local shows as key social hubs for farmers. “These are ‘spaces’ where issues of concern are aired and shared and where we can begin to normalise mental health conversations. “It is about time to break the stigma attached to mental health and if you are feeling vulnerable, please open-up and speak to someone.”

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick echoed the claims and said he was pleased studies were ‘finally beginning’ to expose the impacts of modern day farming and rural living. “The survey results must act as a platform to tackle the stigma that still exists around mental health in a traditional industry like farming,” he said.

“There is clearly much more that must be done to talk frankly and openly about these issues in farming and crofting circles, while at the same time raising awareness of the organisations that are there to help.”

It came as Support in Mind Scotland promised to ‘connect’ people in rural communities in answer to their affirmation that ordinary links in the community helped overcome stigma, isolation and remoteness. Jim Hume, manager of the forum for Support in Mind Scotland, added: “Mental ill health can be more difficult to tackle in remoter parts of Scotland but it can be treated, especially with early intervention. “The Forum and its members are keen to take action by raising awareness in rural communities and normalising talking about mental ill health.”

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