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Happier than a pig in mud: Exploring the importance of human and livestock mental wellbeing

Happier than a pig in mud: Exploring the importance of human and livestock mental wellbeing


The interconnection between people, animals, and their shared environment has been recognized for over a century and recently, the term ’One Health’ has come to describe this connection.

Here at SEFARI we work on a number of areas relevant to One Health, including our mental wellbeing and livestock wellbeing. Therefore, in this blog, I will explore how we can help our own mental wellbeing before focusing on livestock mental wellbeing, and more specifically on SEFARI research on pig welfare.

Our mental wellbeing:

It is well known that poor mental health and wellbeing can have a profound effect on our lives. In 2019, 17% of people aged over 16 in Scotland showed signs of possible mental health problems. Good mental health and wellbeing is important for everyone, including those living and working in rural Scotland.

A 2017 survey conducted by Support in Mind Scotland and the Rural Policy Centre of Scotland’s Rural College found that there was little research focusing on mental health in rural areas and a national rural mental health forum was established. The survey highlighted that rural communities considered they need more support from their communities and the NHS, and this support could come from socialising with members of their community, and/or in the form of policies to mainstream mental health care and wellbeing. In addition, the National Farming Union Scotland (NFUS) has recently highlighted the critical importance of mental health and well-being for those working in the farming industry.

Thankfully, more and more people now recognise the importance of good mental health and wellbeing, undoubtedly brought more into focus very recently during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are a few simple steps known already that we can all take to help our mental wellbeing, such as partaking in creative arts, or even using light therapy to help beat the winter blues, as discussed in one of our previous blogs. In addition, SEFARI researchers are trying to expand our understanding on what can help:

  • Green spaces can be beneficial for our mental health and these, large or small, can hopefully be accessed regardless of where you live. Colleagues at the James Hutton Institute have reviewed evidence which suggests being in natural gardens could reduce levels of stress and those living in rural communities, for example, could use the stunning Scottish landscape as useful a way to help. SEFARI researchers at the James Hutton Institute and SRUC have also looked at the link between urban greenspace and prescription rates to treat mental health disorders across Scottish towns. Knowing that green spaces can have a positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing can be really useful to know. Research like this contributes to One Health, by understanding the intersectionality between environmental science and mental health research.

  • The impacts of COVID-19 were particularly challenging for isolated rural and island communities across Scotland, but SEFARI researchers at the James Hutton Institute and SRUC found that members of these communities came together and showed remarkable resilience in the face of adversity. Clearly strong community bonds can be used to help overcome some of the impacts felt during the pandemic, and could improve individual wellbeing. A follow-up study on this work has just been conducted and a newly released report on the ‘'The ongoing impacts of Covid-19 in Scotland’s rural and island communities' is now available.

Similar to getting outside and meeting people, it has been reported that keeping pets can positively contribute to our mental wellbeing, including for people diagnosed with a long-term mental illness. Many of us living with pets believe we can tell (and are concerned about) how they are feeling, but what about the mental wellbeing of farm animals?

Livestock Mental Wellbeing - Tail-biting in Pigs:

SEFARI researchers have been investigating livestock wellbeing and how it can be ever more improved. For example, colleagues at SRUC are researching tail biting behaviours in pigs. Tail biting is linked to anxiety issues and can be caused by cramped living conditions and a lack of enrichment. This behaviour is hard to predict, but researchers think that pigs at risk of being bitten hold their tail down, so tail posture could be used as an early warning system.

While docking pigs’ tails might be seen as an easy solution, this option should be a last resort and doesn’t tackle the issue at heart. Instead, researchers found cutting edge Agri-tech can be used to identify the early signs of tail biting and have developed a system using 3D cameras to detect the pig’s tail posture in at-risk farms.