Farmers look after livestock but not themselves

Jock Gibson and John Scott
Jock Gibson and John Scott said farmers need to take better care of their mental health

Many farmers are great at looking after their livestock but not at taking care of themselves, according to Jock Gibson.

The farmer, from Forres in Moray, said when times get hard and the challenges mount up it was difficult to step away and concentrate on yourself.

Mr Gibson said: "We're all very good at talking about animal health, soil health, crop health, and all these things," he said.

"I would like it to become as normal to talk about human health and how we look after ourselves as well as our livestock."

His friend John Scott, of Fearn Farm in Ross-shire, said it was difficult to find people who related to the struggle of agricultural workers as they were "such a minority these days".

"You need that value in life, in your job, and at times we don't feel valued," he told BBC Scotland.

Farmers are used to talking about animal health but not their own

Mr Scott said there had always been unique challenges facing farmers but the economic crisis had make matters much worse.

Costs are going "through the roof", he said, and there are constant struggles to find staff to help out.

Mr Scott said struggling on without sharing your problems led to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

"You do feel lonely, there's no doubt about it," he said.

"I think there are times of the year where you push yourself physically and mentally beyond where it's sensible and I think in those times you've got to try to change habits and look at ways you can actually recharge."

In a bid to address the unique challenges they face, John and Jock are starting an early intervention wellbeing programme called Farmstrong.

The stresses on farmers have been made worse by the economic climate

First established in New Zealand in 2015, and now being adopted in Scotland, the goal is to give farmers the skills to "live well, farm well, and get the most out of life".

"It looks at various things from improving sleep, to more exercise - and there's a big part of it which is peer learning," said Mr Scott, who is working on the initiative with farmers from across Scotland.

"So farmers are getting out and they're getting off-farm and they're speaking to their peers, learning about what they do to actually look after themselves, and focus on making sure they're physically and mentally fit, ready to face day-to-day farming challenges."

He added: "I have no doubt that over the past few years that opening up and talking to Jock and other good friends about how I feel has been tremendous.

"There'll be times of the year I really struggle, and I know I can lift the phone and vice-versa."

Farmstrong in Scotland is set to launch in the coming months, and after extensive fundraising will be free for farmers to get involved in.