FARMERS ARE seen by many as the toughest of folk: fearless and resilient. But this very stereotype is perpetuating a stigma around mental health which has left the agricultural industry facing a battle with suicide which has claimed the lives of so many.

One farmer a week loses their life to suicide every year in the UK. Many farmers and farm workers live a hugely solitary life, working long hours – often on their own – for little reward and with little respite. The challenges facing farmers are mostly out with their control, poor weather could ruin that year’s harvest and falling livestock prices could severely threaten the bottom line – and that is barely scratching the surface.

I have spoken to many who have struggled with their mental health but have felt ashamed to tell their family, not wanting to appear weak, leaving them to face mounting pressures alone. Unlike other professions where it is becoming more common to provide support in the workplace or offer leave of absence – farming is still playing catch up.

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Research by the Farm Safety Foundation revealed that over 80 per cent of farmers under the age of 40 believe poor mental health is the biggest hidden danger facing the industry today.

This week, a brave young man opened up to me about his battle with his mental health and how his efforts to conceal his pain from those he loved, drove him to trying to take his own life on two occasions.

Having sought help and come out the other side, he was desperate to share his story in the hope of helping others, so that they too might find the strength to seek help.

Adam Mathison is a 22-year-old farm contractor who is the life and soul of the party. He has always been the one holding everything together for everybody else, the last person anyone expected to hit rock bottom.

Last summer he suffered a bad accident which left him reliant on those around him to take care of his every need – taking away his independence and making him feel like a burden.

He returned to work before he was ready, determined not to appear "weak" and leaving those around him oblivious to the inner turmoil he was facing.

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A month later, someone close to him tried to take their own life, which weighed heavily on his mind, but instead of taking time off work he continued on, pretending everything was okay. In early December, all the emotions he was trying desperately to conceal came to a climax and he made the decision to end his life.

After his attempt Adam was discovered by his mum the next morning and rushed into hospital. He refused follow-up support from the crisis team and a week later ended up back in that same hospital having tried to take his life for a second time.

Having been told by the doctors he wouldn’t survive a third time, and with family and friends begging him to accept support, he admitted himself into a mental health ward and only then did he begin to open up about the struggles he was facing.

“The scariest and most powerful obstacle you will ever come up against is your own mind,” he told me. “I felt I was trapped in this black box and couldn’t see my way out.”

Adam spent six and a half weeks within Huntlyburn Ward, in Melrose, and was overwhelmed by the support he received from all of the staff. Reigniting his passion for the gym was his real breakthrough, giving him an outlet to release his emotions and clear his mind.

He stressed that that there is so much pressure on young men to keep it all in and to put on a display of strength, admitting that pride has a huge amount to answer for.

“I was so stubborn before and wouldn’t back down to a raging bull, so if I could ask for help, others can too,” he said. “Men must not be ashamed to talk about their mental health. There is no weakness in admitting you are not okay.”

Thankfully, Adam is here to share his story and encourage others to speak up, but many others have not been so lucky.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged between 20 and 34 years old in the UK, with men three times more likely than women to end their own life.

Between 2011 and 2017, data from the National Records of Scotland revealed that those working in farming, forestry and fishing were seven times more likely to die from suicide than those in customer service roles.

Only last week, Scotland’s National Farming Union addressed the growing concerns around mental health in the agricultural industry by launching a dedicated webpage signposting farmers and crofters to organisations such as Samaritans, to find help.

Farming charity RSABI provides emotional, practical, and financial support to individuals and their families across the agricultural sector. Last June, RSABI launched the Keep Talking Campaign, to encourage people to reach out and check in on those they would normally see during the course of the year. Now, more than ever, this message remains pertinent, with restrictions likely to last for many months yet.

We are a long way from the end of this tunnel, but a friendly voice might just offer someone a glimmer of light during these difficult times.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

Guidance and support

If you have personally been affected by any of the content in this article and would like to seek further advice, please see the contact details of specific organisations below:

Breathing Space – Lines are open Mon – Thu between 6pm - 2am and from Fri 6pm – Mon 6am on 0800 83 85 87

RSABI - Helpline open seven days between 7am – 11pm on 0300 111 4166 or

Samaritans – Helpline open 24/7, on 116 123 or 08457 90 90 90 or