MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, Finlay Carson's speech to Parliament during the debate on Suicide Prevention
The headlines on Tuesday 21 February 2017 read: “A RISING young rugby star has been found dead just days after being named ‘man of the match’ in a game that saw his team crowned league champions …
The Stewartry Rugby Club player had been celebrating winning the BT West Division 2 championship with his team only 72 hours earlier.
The 22-year-old, who has come up through the ranks at the club, scored two tries in his club’s win against Cumbernauld.”
The story continued: “Scott Carson was found dead” by his mum and dad “on the family farm near Gatehouse of Fleet ...
It is understood he took his own life.” Scott was not a statistic. He was not a target to be met. He was John and Helen’s son and Ross’s brother.
He was my cousin’s son.
He was a good friend of my son and daughter and many lads and lassies in the Stewartry.
Everybody was shocked. It came as a huge surprise.
Nobody could believe it because he never talked about his problems.
The story might be very personal to me, my family and Scott’s friends, but it is replicated throughout the country far too often, and far too often involves young men in rural areas.
I will talk about rural suicide.
Many factors put individuals at risk of suicide but four key groups of risk and pressures have been identified: risks and pressures within society, including poverty and inequality, together with access to methods of suicide; risks and pressures within communities, including neighbourhood deprivation, social exclusion, isolation and inadequate access to local services; risks and pressures for individuals, including sociodemographic characteristics and lack of care and treatment for and support towards recovery from serious mental illness; and quality of response from services, including insufficient identification of the people who are at risk.
Not just one or two of those risk factors but all of them are present in rural areas.
In the days and hours after Scott’s death, his teammates met often and talked about their feelings.
That is not something that tough farmers and rugby players do, but they did it.
In their relatively small group, a surprising and significant number admitted to having suffered from different levels of mental health issues.
Some had sought support and received medication or other professional intervention, but the majority had never spoken about the issue before or even considered that they should seek help.
That is of great concern.
It is important that we create a culture in which talking about mental health issues is no different from talking about a sprained ankle or a stomach bug.
Many young people who work in agriculture fall into the categories that I have mentioned.
Agriculture suffers more than most industries from the stigma that is attached to mental health problems.
To make matters worse, there are the additional challenges of diagnosis and treatment.
Life in the countryside creates diverse worries for young people, which are often missed by other campaigns.
Farming is a 24/7 job that it is hard to switch off from. Many rural areas are isolated, lacking public transport to sports and recreational facilities, which are not accessible.
Self-employed farmers are not eligible for statutory sick pay, which puts those on lower incomes under more pressure to continue working when they should seek help.
Access to treatment, and particularly to specialist health professionals, can involve long journeys, thus increasing anxiety and worry.
With the GP recruitment crisis, even getting a doctor’s appointment can be difficult.
That is why the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs, a leading youth organisation with more than 3,500 members, has chosen to encourage the conversation and break the stigma surrounding mental ill health and wellbeing by launching the are ewe okay? campaign.
The association recognises that it is about people looking out for one another and that early intervention can be as easy as asking, “Are ewe okay?” and being there to listen.
The aim of the campaign is specifically to target an audience of young people living in Scotland’s rural communities by raising awareness of the triggers and causes of poor mental health and, most important, how to recognise the signs and seek help if others are suffering.
It has teamed up with SAMH, which now offers sessions for young farmers clubs that want to gain a basic understanding of mental ill health and wellbeing.
Members share stories and experiences of mental health conditions online, and the association invests in training so that office bearers can recognise and understand mental health conditions and can signpost those who may have a mental health condition to help.
The rugby team is ideally placed to help young men whose only off-farm activity is often rugby. It is in a positive position to provide support and advice through buddies, or simply by signposting services.
That intervention could be life saving, because stress and anxiety can lead to suicide without any visible signs.
The Stewartry rugby team coach, NFU Scotland and the local health and wellbeing project coordinator are working together to deliver a mental health and wellbeing project that will assist in making it more commonplace for men and women, from the club’s youngest members to its veterans, to recognise that mental wellbeing is a huge part of the overall wellbeing, performance and fitness of the individual.
Taking advice and examples from its auspicious professional colleagues at Glasgow Warriors, the club hopes to incorporate mental health as it does physical health in its day-to-day training, as a result ridding rugby of the stigma that sadly played a part in the death of a teammate.
I hope that that is a model that can be rolled out to organisations across Scotland.
It is of great concern that a new action plan will not be published until spring 2018, but that should not be an excuse for failure to progress collaborative working with groups that are in a positive position to take action now to avoid more suicides.