The Farmers Guardian Farming Hero Award was introduced to recognise an individual or group of people determined not to give up in the face of adversity and inspire change in others.
Every week one farmer loses their life to suicide and one-in-four people in Scotland will suffer from mental health illness, according to research.
To put this into context, 1.3 million individuals in Scotland will face mental health challenges at some point in their life.
To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week in 2016, the Scottish Association of Young Farmers’ (SAYFC) unveiled a new mental health campaign to encourage its members to ’listen, talk and share’.
Speaking at the launch at Ayr Show that year, Stuart Jamieson, previous chairman of SAYFC, said a key focus for the ‘Are Ewe Okay?’ campaign would be to encourage important conversations to break the stigma surrounding mental wellbeing.
He said: “Everyone has mental health. It can be good or it can be less than good, but everyone’s mental health is different, as well as constantly changing, depending on many different aspects.
“SAYFC has 3,500 members who are aged between 14 and 30 years old, so there are many different life events and pressures going on during this period which can influence how they feel, including education, relationships, employment, health and finance.
“This statistic is one of the reasons SAYFC has chosen to encourage those all-important conversations and break the stigma surrounding mental wellbeing.
“It is about looking out for each other by taking the time to listen, offering a situation where someone feels confident enough to talk or by sharing information to aid our members.”
Over the months which followed, the campaign was, and still is, delivering regularly through social media with the aim of specifically targeting the association’s audience of young people living in Scotland’s rural communities.
A dedicated area on the SAYFC website features a host of information and explains examples and conditions of poor mental health, its triggers, symptoms and where to seek help if someone is suffering.
Workshops were also offered where members could get together in their clubs and have information nights and club meetings to encourage discussion.
Current SAYFC chairman Suzie Dunn says: “I think there can be a huge stigma surrounding mental health among farmers. I believe there is an issue of pride which stops individuals asking for help. The campaign started discussion and helped to start breaking down the stigma.”
As the campaign developed and its reach broadened, more members came forward to share their experiences of mental illness.
The first member to speak out and tell her story was former Avondale YFC member Jenna Ballantyne.
She says: “Admitting to yourself you are ill with depression is the first hurdle. The second is seeking the help and guidance you require, and sooner rather than later.
“The third is facing everyone else. I was diagnosed with depression in December 2015 which was a bit of a heartbreaking time.
“I reluctantly didn’t tell my family and friends, as I just wanted them to enjoy their Christmas, but eventually two days later I told them.
“I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and didn’t want to be here. It is a scary thought when you think back.
“Just because you are not showing you are ill on the outside, does not mean you are not ill on the inside. But the pain on the inside is so much harder to heal and a very long process; it is not just an overnight illness.
“A cut you can patch up with a plaster, but depression you can’t.”
SAYFC holds a dedicated ‘Are Ewe Okay?’ day every Wednesday through social media, where no other posts other than what is related to the campaign are shared. Members are then actively liking posts and the shares quickly gather momentum.
The campaign has changed members’ attitudes, not least raising awareness, and an increasing number of clubs began fundraising to raise awareness and support the administration costs.
The northern area got on board by staging a tractor pull and, at the Royal Highland Show last year, there were various charity gunges.
Karen Gemmell, who helped stage a charity fish and chip evening for Ayr and District, says: “Young Farmers is a tight knit community and we should be free to open up to one another. It is about reiterating messages. I really think the campaign has highlighted the key issues and the community has pulled together.”
Jenna, who works at Lawrie and Symington, has now made a full recovery and is looking forward to the future.
She says: “I was never embarrassed about having the illness. In fact, I told people when I saw them. I have great support from my family and friends and I will always be a stronger person for coming out the other side and getting my life back on track.
“There are people and groups out there who are there to help. All you have to do is seek the help you need, starting with your doctor.”
The growing attention it has received means it will remain a focal point for the association.
Suzie says: “It is a rewarding experience to know you can change people’s lives. If it helps just one person to feel they are not alone then it is a great feeling to know we can help.
“It has been an honour to be part of the campaign because of the legs, pace and acknowledgement it has gained.”
Nominations for Farmers Guardian Farming Hero are now open. This award recognises an individual or group of people who do not give up in times of uncertainty, but instead inspire change in others.
Every person faces challenge, albeit personal and professional, but it is strength of the human spirit which can transform the darkest of times into positive pro-activity.
Do you know an individual or group of people who have refused to shy away from adversity, who are resilient, strong and determined to still make a difference in the most impossible of circumstances?
To nominate a person or a group of individuals for this award, visit britishfarmingawards.co.uk