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HomeBeefBeautician turned farmer opens up about mental health struggles
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Beautician turned farmer opens up about mental health struggles

31-year-old Vickie Gillespie and her father, Andy, have a farm with around 300 cattle, 200 sheep and 8 pigs.

When Vickie was 17, her dad became poorly. ‘Poorly’ is a term, the Leicestershire native uses to describe PTSD, her dad’s condition.

She views a mental illness in the same way as any physical illness, something that should be talked about and something that should receive the right medical treatment.

Andy’s battle 

Farming had always been a big part of Andy’s life. He had always wanted to be a farmer and farm his own land and successfully secured a farm so he could leave an unfulfilling job and pursue his dream.

However, the reality differed from the dream, and Andy struggled with starting from scratch and trying to make it work.

The added complication of dyslexia meant that he was wary of paperwork and did not fully understand how to complete the mountains of admin that goes with the industry.

At this point, Vickie and her mother knew that this was serious as Andy could not deal with the guilt and wasn’t coping with his PTSD or the farm.

Like many of his generation, he did not acknowledge that he may be struggling with his mental health, ran away from the problem and left the family.

Drained and depressed

Over the following years, teenage Vickie found herself supporting her devastated and confused mother. However, there came a point when she, herself, started to feel drained and depressed.

Although relations with her father had improved, and he was seeing a counsellor, and on medication for depression, Vickie was the one who was starting to feel the effects.

At 25, she found herself in a very dark place. Despite her own father’s experiences, Vickie repeated his behaviours – she stuck her head in the sand and hoped it would go away.

She was working in an office crunching data, something she found dull and boring and could find no joy in any of the things that she used to like.

The former beautician tried to build her resilience by giving back and volunteered at an animal sanctuary in South Africa.

But, on her return to the UK, she found herself out of a job, something that would prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Around this time, Vickie started medication for her depression and enrolled in cognitive behavioural therapy and found this stabilised her moods and boosted her confidence. When Andy suggested that she come and work on the farm with him, she agreed.

faketannedfarmer, Vickie Gillespie, farming, farm girls, UK
Image credit: Vickie Gillespie – @faketannedfarmer on Instagram

Although farming was never something that Vickie had considered, she wanted to make a success of it so her father could have a legacy. Despite some teething difficulties, she found she was actually very good at it.

For the past six years, Vickie and Andy have worked together building the farm, and after trialling various medications, Andy is now managing his condition. He admits that he should have asked for help rather than running away from the problem.

Vickie now looks after most of the paperwork and finance for the farm, which is starting to thrive and, together, they are supporting each other.

As Vickie explains: “We both have bad days, but that’s okay as bad days are normal.It can be easy to forget that actually it’s human to feel rubbish somedays and it’s allowed.”

For someone who had never considered a career in farming, Vickie seems to be a natural.

She is still learning about life, farming, and managing her own mental health. She admits her stubbornness drives her and, what started as a goal to make the farm a success for her father, has now become a family affair with her mother now involved and is now her goal.

Being a woman in farming has never been an issue, and, at her own admission, she may be “5ft 3 and built like a fairy”, but she can do it, and she can certainly hold her own.

Further reading

Vickie Gillespie’s fellow Farm Safety Foundation ambassador, Dan Goodwin shared his story as part of Mind Your Head campaign – read here.   

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