Published October 2023

Marc Gascoigne, Farmstrong New Zealand

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Marc Gascoigne is a New Zealand dairy farmer and ambassador for Farmstrong, a well-being initiative in New Zealand that supports farmers to live well, so they can farm well. He visited Scotland in February and March 2023 to share his personal story of depression, resilience and well-being, and was part of a tour of 14 events across the country, that helped highlight the importance of Farmstrong and why it is now been launched in Scotland.

Now back in New Zealand, we caught up with Marc as he reflects on his experience.

It has been over a month since I headed back home to New Zealand after my Farmstrong speaking tour of Scotland.

I’ve been busy clearing trees and debris from cyclone Gabrielle, and repairing fences destroyed by the trees tipping over. Of course the fences destroyed were only a year old – I wouldn’t have minded if they had blown over on fences that needed replacing anyway !!

We were fairly lucky in the Waikato where we farm – other regions in the North Island suffered enormous damage from flooding and erosion, with bridges and roads destroyed and many communities isolated.

When I was in Scotland, I realized just how close the ties are between Scotland and New Zealand. Many people I talked to had been to New Zealand, or had family or friends here. I was struck at how many people are passionate about rugby, and had followed the Lions on tours of New Zealand. One of the highlights of my trip to Scotland was being in a Scottish pub to watch the boys in blue beat England at Twickenham. What a game that was.

There are also close ties between the two countries in farming circles. The main difference I noticed in farming systems was the need to winter cattle indoors in Scotland. It’s ironic that one of the triggers for my mental health issues over the years was our cows having to deal with bad weather outside over our winter and spring. I often thought how much better it would be to be able to bring them indoors. But one comment I often heard in Scotland was “You’re so lucky being able to winter cattle outdoors” – it’s funny how the grass is always greener!

Farmstrong is a wellness programme started in New Zealand 8 years ago, and it has been very successful. So I think it makes perfect sense to replicate it in Scotland, and get the Farmstrong ball rolling to improve the wellbeing of farmers, both mental and physical.

In my mind Scotland is where we were in New Zealand 8 years ago – back then I wouldn’t have dared to talk to a mate about my emotions or what was going on in my head. It was only when my brother Mike came to see me and told me he was on medication for depression, that I opened up and started talking about my own struggles with depression and anxiety.

The first step I took was going to visit my GP, and luckily he had been told about Farmstrong and suggested it may be good for me to have a look at the website. Fast forward to today and I have a completely different perspective on life, and farming. That perspective is way more positive. I’m living the dream. And there are now so many more people here in New Zealand talking openly about their mental health – and that wasn’t the case at all 8 years ago.

It was really quite daunting for me to come to Scotland and talk about my struggles and what I have done to overcome them. I needn’t have worried. The reception I got from all of my audiences was humbling. I had many conversations with farmers and crofters afterwards, and at farm visits between talks, that to be honest sent shivers down my spine. The most common thing I heard was “What you said was exactly what I am dealing with myself”. It is amazing how often people said they thought they were the only one suffering, and they thanked me for showing them that it is not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about. It is so common, and it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, or what type of farming you are doing.

When I was in Scotland, I talked a lot about the 5 ways to wellness. One of them is to Connect. When I was suffering from depression and anxiety, the last thing I wanted to do was connect with other people. I would make excuses when people invited us out, and I never went to farming meetings or discussion groups. All I felt like doing was staying home, feeling sorry for myself on the couch, which was absolutely the worst thing I could have done! Now I make an effort to connect with as many people as I can, every day. Even just taking a couple of minutes to call a friend that you haven’t talked to in a while, can help boost your mood, and theirs as well.

The people I connected with and stayed with in Scotland were brilliant, and I know I’ve made some lifelong friends that welcomed me as if I was family. So, my visit to Scotland certainly helped me tick the “Connect” box – one of the 5 ways to wellness.

How is your well-being? And how many people have you connected with today? Give it a go – make a point today of making an effort to talk to someone – even just setting a goal of asking one person about how their family is doing. It might seem like such a small and simple thing – but improving wellness is often one thousand small improvements rather than one silver bullet. Go for it!

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