If you think Tipton on a cold, wet and windy winter's day is depressing, think again.

For apparently the part of the country with the highest rate of depression is located more than 1,000 miles away at the northern-most tip of Britain.

Shrouded in darkness half the year and unable to escape sunlight the other six months, the people of the Shetland Islands are plagued by high rates of suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence.

More than a quarter of them exhibit symptons associated with mental illness that "might benefit from further investigations" according to a 1999 Health and Lifestyle survey.

For most, that would be good reason to avoid this bleak windswept outpost. But for Roger Casemore, they are exactly the ingredients that draw him towards it.

The Worcester-based academic has 40-years experience as a counsellor and is currently training people in the Shetlands to become therapists.

One of the primary aims is to equip the community with the skills they need to help them overcome the psychological problems they face.

In common with many parts of the UK - not least Black Country-based Tipton - Mr Casemore cites economic decline as as key reason for mental ill health in the Shetlands.

"The community was lifted by the oil industry moving there in the 70s with the Sullom Voe terminal which was the biggest in Europe, but in recent years, along with the white fishing industry, it has collapsed," he said.

"There was also airforce bases since the War but the last one went this year. As a result there is a feeling of decline in the community."

Bad weather - something the West Midlands also shares - is another reason for low mood, said Mr Casemore, director of counselling and psychotherapy at the University of Warwick.

"It is the northern most part of the British Isles. It is in the arctic circle. I was up there four weeks ago and I was walking on the beach in a force eight gale. With the snow blowing and the temperature minus six it was pretty bleak.

"Unlike elsewhere in the British Isles, there are almost no trees."

Isolation is another key cause of depression - something the 25,000 population of the Shetlands have in abundance.

"They feel distant from the rest of the modern world in many ways," said Mr Casemore.

"Some of the houses are very isolated. Crofting is a major form of income - parts of the island seem to be locked in a time warp of 50 to 60 years ago."

Mr Casemore has set up a University of Warwick-accredited diploma in counselling at Shetland College to train people to become professional counsellors. The first 12 students graduated last year.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Casemore believes getting people to talk is key to solving emotional and mental issues.

"It is a kind of emotional poverty," said the 65-year-old.

"A culture like that very much rooted in agriculture and fishing is an old culture where talking about feelings isn't done, especially if you are a man.

"You grit your teeth and get on with it. But the most damaging thing is when people just stop themselves from experiencing any feelings of anger or sadness.

"They carry on and their feelings boil over and they become unable to cope."

Mr Casemore believes what is true for the Shetlands is true for many parts of mainland Britain.

"Depression is one of the most common illnesses people present themselves to GPs with.

"It is part of our cultural inheritance that we keep a stiff upper lip and get on with things.

"To some degree we have to do a bit of that, but if we do it by suppressing our feelings that is really unhelpful."

Other ingredients to a happy life are having a hobby and feeling part of a community, said Mr Casemore.

"Most people in the Shetlands have what they call a 'winter project'. They have something to do during the winter months.

"They also have a celebration of the winter solstice called the Up Helly Ya festival where they build a Viking long boat and parade it through the streets and set fire to it. Things like that build community spirit."

Top tips for beating the blues:

* Foster strong community links

* Exercise - it helps promote the creation of happy-enducing endorphins

* Eat a good diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and fish

* Make sure you get good sleep

* Ensure a good work/life balance

* Talk to friends and relatives or if that's not possible, a good therapist