In this article, Scottish farmer and FCN FarmWell Award 2021 winner Scott Dewart discusses some of the farming challenges he faces at this time of year – and how he stays positive and looks after his mental health. You can access Scott’s award-winning video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOpWp7arJQQ
I wanted my first post to be a video to introduce myself, however a particularly nasty winter bug has got to me and as such I have no voice!
My names Scott, I am this year’s winner of FCN’s Farmwell Award – designed to help promote the importance of mental health alongside physical health.
I choose the theme of balance as I said in my video, sometimes one of the hardest parts of working in agriculture is trying to find time to get away from the farm. This week has proven that to me, having chosen to self-isolate after testing negative for COVID albeit displaying all the symptoms, it has forced me to realise that the full weight and responsibility of the farm doesn’t fall just to my own shoulders and that there are people there to share the workload, and that has been an invaluable lesson to realise. That even although you may think there isn’t anyone with the time to help, there is a network of friends and family round about you to step in at a minute’s notice.
This month has seen the usual seasonal changes for us here in the South West of Scotland – the weather changing, nights drawing in and the start of the winter with cows being housed and the tups going out! This is where the workload almost doubles and time in day light hours to get the jobs done or to get away from the farm decreases.
Personally, I find this the hardest time of the year to keep my mental health in check. Reducing day light hours and reduced exposure to vit D I tend to find my mood sliding towards the negative. To try and help with this, I take daily vitamin D supplements and try to get out during the day if I can, sounds daft I know, working on a farm and not being outside, but during the day I work for the Scottish Government, therefore during the winter months tend to be on the farm from before 7am and then again after 4pm, so not much chance to catch the sun. Although in Scotland in winter the sun tends to be a reclusive creature!
So, from saying that, the big jobs such as working with cattle and sheep tend to take place at the weekends, so as most of us do, you end up working a 7-day week through one of the bleakest times of year, which takes its toll regardless of who you are or where you live. Just now for example, we are on a rolling block of work with each weekend a different group of cows and calves are to dose and clip, so if you were to look at my calendar just now, you wouldn’t see a lot of free time or time for myself.
Therefore, I tend to block out time at lunch and at the end of my Scottish Government working day to spend time with the dogs and getting some much-needed time to wind down from one thing before starting another. It’s so easy to get caught in the cycle of there’s too much work to be done, so you need to work all the hours under the sun, however sometimes, that last wee job can wait till tomorrow, to allow you to give yourself time to go for a walk, have an early finish and just watch a bit of TV, or reflect back on what adventures you’ve been on throughout the year.
This photo is one I tend to go back to a lot, as it reminds me of a particularly good day sat in the gardens close to where I live and it gives me some wonderful memories. It also reminds me that when you are going through a particularly rough time that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, yes at the time it may be dim and difficult to see, but it is there, and there are always people around you to help kindle even the smallest ember.
We work in an industry where the perception of strength goes above everything and we feel the need to carry on regardless of how we are feeling, I have thought his, been terrified to say what I’m really thinking, however I found that when I did, nothing bad happened, I didn’t get the reaction from people that I thought I would and that by just saying, “well, look, I’m not really okay” or words to those effect helped me to become a stronger person in myself.
Basically, you should never feel alone, never feel trapped or scared to say how you are feeling – farming is a wonderfully communal industry more than any I know, be it your neighbour, a pal at the market, or your family, there is always someone around to listen, and don’t forget the wonderful resources offered by The Farming Community Network, but also at RSABI. They are invaluable resources; dedicated and understanding of the issues faced within agriculture. These charities have volunteers who you can talk to in a setting you feel comfortable in and provide you with the resources you need at the time.
We are just coming into the toughest, busiest times of year for most of us across the country. We need to take time for ourselves and realise that we need that break as well. Even if it’s just going out for a run on a Sunday afternoon, or grabbing a coffee with friends for an hour at the weekend, finding that time away from the farm and the to-do list is essential to make sure that we can be the version of ourselves that we want to be.
It may be November and we have just passed the clocks changing, so things are getting darker and driecher, however, the winter Solstice is only just round the corner and then it’s a straight path till spring!
Stay safe this winter, and remember, if you need to talk, there is always someone there to listen.