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Anti-shooting activism is taking a toll on the mental health of rural people, according to enquiry

The risks from online bullying and harassment have been highlighted in evidence to a parliamentary enquiry into rural mental health.

The increasing pressure of online and real world activism on those involved in country sports has created an increasing challenge to the mental health of those in the rural sector in recent years. A Scottish gamekeeper told Shooting Times that the incessant pressure left him suffering from anxiety. The keeper who asked not to be named said: “It’s hard to see a future for shooting and chances that I can pass this shoot on to the next generation seem very slim.”

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of the House of Commons began an enquiry into rural mental health earlier this year after it emerged that every week a rural worker was taking their own life. Giving evidence to the committee, Melinda Raker, founder of the campaign You Are Not Alone, identified the rural professions which are at high risk of mental health problems.

Melinda said: “Farm work is a high risk, those in horticulture are a high risk, and gamekeepers are too.” In written evidence, the Countryside Alliance highlighted the role of celebrity online campaigning in damaging the mental health of those in the countryside. The Alliance’s evidence quoted one member as saying it is: “Very difficult to stay positive when you’re constantly bashed and verbally abused both online and in person for your profession. We used to be seen as the custodians of the countryside and are now treated like the scum of the earth thanks to celebrity hate campaigns.”

Another participant highlighted the risks of even challenging false information online. The unnamed correspondent said: “My Facebook account was once targeted by anti- hunt supporters, following a comment I put on a very obviously fake photo of a fox that had apparently been murdered by the hunt.”

“I started receiving abusive and threatening messages. I blocked all and removed the supposed friend responsible. But for a long time it made my anxiety and panic attacks significantly worse.”

The Gamekeeper’s Welfare Trust offers support and advice to those in the gamekeeping and related professions who are experiencing difficulties and You Are Not Alone provides help for those involved in farming and other rural businesses affected by stress and depression.

Both services are confidential and free of charge.