RGU and NHS to explore the mental health of Scotland’s farmers

Thursday 07 February 2019

Professor Kay Cooper
A newly launched research project at RGU is set to explore and enhance the mental wellbeing of the nation’s farming population.

The team of researchers from RGU’s School of Health Sciences and NHS Grampian are looking to work with the farming community to listen to a range of opinions on mental health and what can be done to improve it.

The project’s aim will then be to develop an impactful intervention – hand-in-hand with farmers – to enhance and safeguard their wellbeing for the future.

The team of researchers will be led by Professor Kay Cooper, Clinical Professor Allied Health Professions at both RGU’s School of Health Sciences and NHS Grampian, and Professor Liz Hancock, RGU’s Vice-Principal for Academic Development and Student Experience.

Professor Cooper explains: “We know that farmers and others working in the agriculture sector regularly experience distress, anxiety and depression, which in turn are related to greater risk of injury. Levels of depression in the industry are thought to be increasing and, according to the Office for National Statistics, agricultural workers are amongst the highest suicide rates in the country.

“Aside from the personal impact, poor mental wellbeing has a significant economic cost, with World Health Organisation recently estimating the global burden at £34.9billion.

“We have recently completed an initial review of prior interventions for wellbeing and chronic occupational diseases in the farming population, but of the 45 studies we found, only one focussed on mental wellbeing and was not applicable to a Scottish context.”

With the support of the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS), the team of researchers will be holding interviews with farmers at Thainstone and Orkney marts, before moving on to the in-depth workshop phase.

NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: “Mental health and wellbeing is a hugely important subject which too often is ignored in the farming community. Over the last few years we have been seeing more and more people coming out in our industry and shining a light on the issue of depression and anxiety and how it can be so prevalent in farmers and crofters.

“NFU Scotland is committed to improving the mental health and welfare of farmers and crofters across Scotland and we work closely with organisations such as RSABI and the Rural Mental Health Forum, which I sit on as a representative, to help tackle mental health stigma in farming.

“We have also made mental health and wellbeing the focal point of a panel session at our Autumn Conference last year as well as having a presentation on the same subject at our AGM and Conference this year. This shows the high priority NFU Scotland believes mental health needs be taken as we put it front and centre of our national discussions.”

Susan Webb, NHS Grampian Director of Public Health, said: "This research project is very welcome and I look forward to seeing the results of the interviews and workshops. We are committed to supporting the farming community to stay in good health, recognising the massive contribution they make to life in the north-east."

The study will begin on Monday 11 February at Orkney Mart and Friday 15 February at Thainstone Mart. Farmers interested in taking part can contact Stephanie Morrison for Orkney (s.morrison@rgu.ac.uk) or Lorna Paterson for Thainstone (lorna.paterson@nfus.org.uk).