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Farm Gate: on farming, mental health, and mental illness

Farm Gate host ffinlo Costain speaks with Graham Morgan MBE about farming, mental health, and mental illness.

14 February 2020, at 10:02am

Graham works for the Mental Health Commission for Scotland and volunteers with HUG Action for Mental Health. He was awarded an MBE for services to mental health and has spoken about mental illness to the United Nations. He's also written a book, Start, which reviewers describe in glowing terms. He recently talked to a conference organised by the National Farmers Union of Scotland.

At the conference, Graham spoke about mental health and that farmers, like everyone else, have a right to get help if they need it. Speaking from his own experience, he knows many farmers feel ashamed if they have mental health challenges, but help can be easy, such as talking to friends.

ffinlo appreciates Graham's openness about his own mental health, and says that this type of honesty can really help people to open up in the same way, overcoming labels and stereotypes. These, he explains, can often be barriers to better understanding about people and their experiences, although they can also help us to understand one another.

"But I think the most important thing is to recognise we're all individuals and that although a stereotype can help us understand each other, it can also obscure who we are and obscure individuality in our own personal needs," says Graham.

ffinlo also mentions "masks", which we often wear to people so that we can appear acceptable to them. These aren't easy to take off, but around people we trust it's easy and important to try.

the yorkshire dales

The conference Graham spoke at provided such an atmosphere for farmers, allowing them to share their experiences of living in rural areas, feeling isolated, and the stress of the lifestyle.

"They could provide direct support to each other," says Graham.

One stereotype we often associate with farmers is that of being "stoical," says Graham. "How do we persuade people to take their mental health more seriously and to identify when they need to ask for help?"

Graham explains that recognising addressing mental health concerns and mental illness is as important as treating "a hand [pulled] off in the combine". You have a right to help and without help, life can be very difficult".

In the podcast, Graham and ffinlo go on to talk about issues which are causing farmers the most stress. Among those they discussed, these were some of the most prevalent:

  • finances;
  • bureaucracy
  • Brexit and the Common Agricultural Policy reform.

Graham says that if he were a farmer, he'd feel worried about his future too, but there are a number of farming organisations that provide support to farmers and a variety of help lines.

He encourages farmers to get treatment for their mental health in the same way they might get treated for a cold or flu, or even something more serious, since there's a spectrum of severity for mental illnesses just as there is for physical illnesses.

A farming life is generally a good life, but it's demanding and it can be stressful. It's hardly a surprise that farmers and farm workers can feel isolated, depressed and sometimes just unable to cope. Mental illness is an illness, not a weakness, and it's a sign of strength to seek out the help you need. Importantly, mental illness can be treated sometimes with support, sometimes with medication. If you're feeling isolated or depressed or you think you know someone who is, help is at hand. These are just a couple of the organisations that provide direct support by phone and by e-mail in the United Kingdom:

Farmgate is a partnership project for Farm Well and FAI Farms and you can join the conversation on Twitter by searching for Farm Gate podcast.