To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, former NFU Scotland Pigs Committee Chair Kevin Gilbert discusses some of the issues which he has faced with mental health in farming.
We are in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Week. I must admit that this has passed me by previously, so it must be a lot bigger this year. The Press and Journal even has a daily double page spread on mental health. This is all great because it increases the chance of people speaking about their mental health and reducing the chance of it remaining a hidden problem.
A couple of years ago NHS Grampian and NFUS had a press launch for a new mental health campaign at Thainstone Mart. Our regional manager, Lorna Paterson, asked me to attend and make a couple of comments. These were suitably vague and made no reference to my own mental health. STV and BBC then wanted to film on a local farm and since we are only 3 miles away, I reluctantly agreed. The BBC’s Rebecca Curran, now of The Nine, asked me mid-interview if I had ever struggled with my own mental health and I admitted that I had. Only a few family and friends knew of my mental health problems and here I was telling everyone on Reporting Scotland. Since then, Lorna has asked me to do various things in relation to mental health, including this blog (thanks Lorna). I have usually agreed to help, somewhat reluctantly.
I find it relatively easy to speak about farming, but mental health is a different matter.
I first struggled with my mental health in 1990. I had been working on a farm in Yorkshire, while my father was undergoing treatment for liver cancer. I came home in early December and my father died at the end of January. He had built up quite a large farming business, starting from scratch and growing to the point where it had six employees.
I muddled along for a start, but I soon found it quite overwhelming trying to run the business at the age of 22. I also went from having a good group of friends and an active social life, to just working all the time at home. I went to my GP, who wasn’t very helpful, but put me on mild anti-depressants which seemed to help.
I have had other episodes of depression over the 30 years since then. I see a psychiatrist 3 times a year. I now know to start taking anti-depressants in November each year and come off them in February.
It took a long time for me to get through the system and be able to see the psychiatrist, but I am now at the stage where my mental health is now quite well-managed. Although it is difficult at first, once you can get into the NHS system the help is there.
In the North-East, we have been having private interviews on mental wellbeing which have been run by Robert Gordon’s University and NHS Grampian. Last week we had a small group meeting with them at Thainstone, which again I reluctantly attended. I put it in my phone as “Mental at the Mart”. There were half a dozen farmers there and I thought that the ones I knew were probably there for support and to make up the numbers. I had been attending meetings with them for years, so I was amazed when they spoke about their own mental health problems. Hopefully the end result will be a small self-help group or a dedicated phone line but watch this space.
I don’t have any specific advice. There is help out there. The NHS, private counsellors, RSABI, Samaritans, Breathing Space and hopefully, in the future, through NFU Scotland. The most important thing is to speak to someone about your problems – something middle-aged men are particularly poor at. Don’t bottle things up until they become too big to deal with. If they do, ask for help. If the first person you ask isn’t helpful, try someone else.