Organised by RSABI and Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) at the suggestion of Easter Ross farmer, John Scott, Doug Avery (The Resilient Farmer) was aiming to raise awareness of mental health and resilience using his own experience on his farm in New Zealand.
Jennifer Walker, a writer and part-time farmer from Castle Douglas, attended the talk and gave us her account of the event.
’It’s OK not to be OK’ was the resounding message given by New Zealand farmer, Doug Avery, at his talk at GG’s Yard, Scotland, in September.
Having battled with stress and depression over the years and coming out the other side a considerably stronger person, Doug Avery, the renowned Resilient Farmer, became New Zealand’s spokesman for mental health to try and raise awareness of a subject rarely spoken about in the agricultural industry.
On a tour of Scotland, Doug scheduled a visit to the beautiful GG’s Yard, a rural venue in Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. The newly-built conference and wedding venue provided the perfect setting for nearly 300 people who turned out to hear Doug’s talk.
For an industry that thrives on growth, expansion and innovation, agriculture is severely antiquated when it comes to talking about mental health and depression, and yet with the everyday stress and pressure that comes hand-in-hand with farming, talking is really something we should be doing.
Farmers tend to be brought up in a world that tells you to man up and get on with it, but if we continue to go down that route and refuse to discuss our problems, it can have a severe impact on our mental health, as well as those around us.
There are worldwide campaigns about farm safety, but not many people think about the safety of their state of mind.
With many farmers coming from rather insular communities, it can be very difficult for someone to stand up and admit that they are struggling.
Doug told the story of the late Paul Renton, a rugby player and farmer who on August 2, 2017, took his own life.
Paul was a much-loved member of his community, a loving father and husband, and had recently been awarded Hawke’s Bay Farmer of the Year.
But, there was still something in his mind that told him it was his time to go. The most distressing part of hearing Doug tell Paul’s heart-breaking story was the look in his eyes - how much he wishes he could have helped him.
If only he had spoken to someone about what he was going through; if only he’d discussed the things that were troubling him or asked for help, perhaps things might have been different.
The fact is that most people who suffer with depression keep it to themselves. They put on a brave face to make everyone think that they are OK.
Why are we so afraid to let people in, to let them know that we are unhappy, run-down or under pressure?
During his talk, Doug asked the audience to stand up and hug the person next to them. After a slightly awkward ripple of laughter across the room, and with glances left and right to see who the better option was, the crowd happily obliged, breaking down barriers that they didn’t even realise were there.
Sometimes, all we need is to know that there’s someone there when we turn.