Normally on Fieldsports Scotland we tend to focus on the day to day shooting and equipment reviews, showing everyone the best you can get from the world of shooting etc. on occasion though it is only right to highlight the serious issues that are around our sports and, although sometimes it does not seem it, shooters are real people too so their lives are effected with the exact same things that all of us are effected by.
Today we are going to talk about mental health, yes I know it is a taboo subject for most of us in the shooting world but it really does need talked about.
Mental health problems in general are well documented in what many shooters deem as the “Snowflake” media. The awareness campaigns for it are never ending and we are bombarded with information in regards to organisations that are able to help. 1 in 4 of us, so to you and me a quarter of people, will suffer from some sort of mental health issue in their lifetime at various levels. Now I am not going to go into detail in regards to the various types of mental health issues in this article because frankly I am nowhere near qualified to comment, however as a shooter I myself have a right to express my feelings in regards to it.
This article is basically my thoughts on the little research I have done on how mental health effects us as shooters and the attitudes of shooters towards the subject.
By the end of March 2019 in Scotland alone there are over 73 thousand Firearms and shotgun certificates issued by Police Scotland and over 23 thousand air rifle certificate owners and a further 580 thousand more people in the rest of the UK have shotgun and firearms certificates, now do not get me wrong the numbers do not reflect those like myself who have a Firearms, Shotgun and Air rifle certificate.
So in total around 700 thousand people own guns legally in the whole of the UK and majority of those have multiple guns and firearms in their possession.
(All figures are from data collected from National Statistics before March 31st 2019, These figures may have changed and are approximations for editorial purposes)
Shooters in general to other sports are a minority population of the voting pool but what does these figures mean to Mental Health?
So with the figures from National Statistics estimating that 1 in 4 of the general population will get mental health issues in their lifetime it is reasonable to suggest that out of the 700 thousand certificate holders 175 thousand of those ticket holder will suffer from some sort of mental health issue, giving that number against the population of shooters it is an issue that really needs talked about.
Talking about mental health in general is an uncomfortable conversation for most to have, but, even more so for Firearms owners. The stigma involved in mental health causes many firearms holders to avoid the subject completely for fear that even talking about it in some way will somehow effect their firearm and shotgun ownership, and in some cases to the detriment of that person. For most people talking about their mental health does not effect their day to day lives but for firearms owners there is that constant niggle in the back of our minds that there are something we are allowed to talk about and somethings we feel we are not allowed to talk about and mental health issues are one of those “not allowed” topics, this is obviously wrong but it is still the mindset we are in.
The problem lies for gun owners is the fact they are just that “Gun Owners”, responsibility is key to every action you make as this could effect your right to gun ownership in the UK and that includes your health. This fact is always in the mind of every gun owner in the decisions you make daily and even to the point of who you talk to about it. The media does not help this issue, often in the UK press the public are made to believe that gun owners are all murderers and bad people, whether that is down to the sport in general or how they report illegal firearms incidents, the UK press in general does not paint shooting sports in a good light. So shooters tend to be hyper aware of their day to day activities for fear of scrutiny, for example I know a few managing directors of companies who believe that their business would be badly effected if their clients knew that in their spare time they stalk deer.
With the stigmas that mental health has, shooters in general will not seek help when problems arise, the fear of going to the doctor and having their problems documented officially on their medical records is something that most shooters will have. Unlike the general population who do not have to disclose their medical records to the police, unless a crime has been committed, every firearms and shotgun certificate holder does and this happens every 5 years and due to this trust issues arise and specifically with how the reports are made from the Doctor.
Over the years. in some cases, relationships between the shooting community and Doctors have been strained. In general there has been a major change on how people see the shooting community and in return many Doctors have shown they are personally against gun owners. This was highlighted even more in regards to the recent changes on how the reports are gathered to be given to police during the renewal or application process. Which has seen some Doctors refusing to be involved in the approval process of the application when it comes down to providing medical records, resulting in delays in application and in some cases refusals.
The police reaction in some cases does not help the issue. Lets not beat around the bush the police do have a job to do, their main role is public safety and 1 gun for them on the streets, legally held or not, is one gun too many and that you have to understand. Often the police are criticised for what is perceived to be “kneejerk” reaction to some minor incidents, but you have to understand the police are in constant scrutiny over issues in the past, and due to that they would rather be criticised for being over cautious than not cautious enough and missing something. Highlighted after the Hungerford and Dunblane incidents and rightly so. Due to this though gun owners become even less eager to talk about issues that bother them physically or mentally in regards to health.
For the reasons highlighted above shooters do fear going to the Doctor will result in problems with their gun ownership albeit in some cases unwarranted. I recently done 4 polls on Social media in regards to this subject. I asked in 4 shooting groups “Would you go to a Doctor if you were suffering from mental health issues, like stress?” and out of the 512 people that took the polls 90% said NO. Only 10% said they would. That reflects a case for some serious questioning needed in regards to this subject and how we in the shooting community solve the problems. A report by medical professionals in 2004 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15573969/ ) estimated that in general there is 100 suicides involving gunshots per year and most of them were by shotgun and from other articles this trend has not changed much since. So questions do need asked and answered.
Stress is prevalent in the community and we cannot hide that fact no matter how hard we try, most of us use shooting sports to relieve the stresses of day to day life, just like some people like to go for a walk with their dog or go for a long drive, shooters will go for for a stalk or down the range or blast some clay pigeons to clear their minds.
Where we see stress more in our industry is those that rely on the shooting sports industry for their livelihoods. Gamekeepers, Stalkers and Farmers etc all have real stressful jobs on occasion. They live insecurely, mostly in tied accommodation, couple with the facts of working 100 hour weeks on very low pay, so family and real life can be hard on them. Over the years reports of Young and Old Keepers and Farmers taking their own lives highlights these problems but other than small articles here and there the topic is generally not talked about and this needs to change. Even one death is too much specially when in many cases it is preventable.
Now it is clear that NO shooter legally has to declare they have suffered a mental health until their renewal, where they MUST tell the truth when they tick those boxes on the application as it is illegal not to, but, it is this renewal question that halts anyone from going to the Doctor.
We need solutions to this problem sooner than later.
The Gamekeepers Welfare Trust has written a leaflet in regards to this and I would urge all shooters to have a look at it (linked below) and your welcome to send your thoughts to me on that at firstname.lastname@example.org along with any solutions you may have. https://thegamekeeperswelfaretrust.com/wp-content/uploads/Mental-Health-Leaflet-Draft-Release-for-25-March-2020-2.pdf
Albeit the leaflet provided and drafted by the GWT is informative and useful I have to stress I did take a poll asking if this leaflet made any difference to what people thought about going to the Doctor with mental health issues and the answer 100% was NO, and that to me is clear that more needs to be done.
We all deal with stress in different ways, for some reading this stress will be considered as “life” and you just get on with it but for some “life” can be a little too much. As a father and as a father of four children with Autism I understand the pressures life brings and thankfully it does not effect me badly, that may change in the future and if it does I wont hesitate to try get help, however for some the smallest problems can accumulate into something severe (we have all been there) and with that the only way they can solve it is with help and if the stigma of asking for help is a problem then that can turn catastrophic for that person and their family so something must be done.
I have been thinking about solutions and the biggest solutions come from everyone working together. We have a number of organisations working on our behalf, all taking money from shooters in regards to insurance and lobbying etc. I do know regular discussions between them and government bodies happen and some policies within government are hard to change.
So what could our organisations do for us in regards to helping the mental health issue other than lobbying government and liaising with police?
For one why not offer counselling as part of your insurance with independent counsellors that do not need to report to the police at renewal? It is all good and well Highlighting organisations like the Samaritans, but many of these organisations do not understand gun owners in general, in fact some have to report straight to the police if they feel there is a danger to personal or public safety and just the fact that someone declaring they are a gun owner can make that decision for them.
When investigations by the police occur, over mental or physical health issues, in regards to Firearms and shotgun certificates (suspension, removals or revocations) why can our organisations not offer a service where an independent evaluation can be done so that shooter can be assessed on his or her competency? This could help police and cut down the time period of investigations.
Liaise better with the General Medical Councils on ways forward on how mental health is reported to the police obviously in agreement with the various police forces.
But most of all encourage shooters to speak about their problems instead of being in fear of losing their jobs or their sport as that does not help their mental health either.
There is a lot of work that needs done and we all can play a role in it.