A 35-year old farmer, David Devine, has shared his personal experience of poor mental health in a special podcast commissioned by the agri-food company, ABP, to help the rural community stay connected during challenging times.
He was speaking to broadcaster Karen Patterson about the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the wellbeing of rural communities, along with Northern Ireland’s newly appointed interim mental health champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill and the chief executive of the charity, Rural Support, Veronica Morris.
‘I was dying inside’
David was keen to take part in the podcast discussion in the hope that those listening could recognise the signs of poor mental health and feel able to ask for help, “If I had only known what to look for. I let it go on and on until it got to a stage that it probably was nearly irreversible.”
“I was dying inside. I was putting a face on it and nobody had a clue. I was able to sing and dance for an arts festival but really didn’t want to go out of the house. It sounds clichéd, but I finally said, ‘I need help’. The biggest step is recognising something is not right, then take a step back and ask for help.”
The newly appointed Interim Northern Ireland Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill said that the community spirit during the Covid-19 pandemic could be harnessed as we move to a new normal so that we can continue to help one another.
Stress and mental health issues
Professor O’Neill, who also lives on a farm, said that lockdown has taken its toll. “We are social animals and we’ve lost that social integration.”
“Isolation can cause stress and mental health problems. Farming families are often doing multiple jobs and looking after school children. We now need to attend to our mental health and ensure that people get the help they need.”
She emphasised her new role was about prevention as well as improving access to treatment. “We need to train up members of the public to be able to have conversations that can help each other.”
“There are so many people within communities that can play a stronger role. We’ve seen so much of that during the pandemic. Let’s harness it.”
‘We now appreciate more things that really are so important to us’
Professor O’Neill is encouraged by the renewed interest in key workers, “Farming families provide us with food. They should now be valued in a way they might not have been before.”
“We appreciate our environment and outdoor spaces so hopefully farmers, as custodians of that space, are valued too. We’ve learnt the value of good health and the importance of caring for the vulnerable people in our community. We now appreciate more things that really are so important to us.”
Chief Executive of Rural Support, Veronica Morris, said the organisation receives many calls from people in a similar situation to that which David found himself in, and praised his bravery for speaking up. “Despite mental health being somewhat taboo within the farming community, thankfully that is starting to change, as David has demonstrated.”
“There are many things that people can do to help themselves, as well as various professional agencies out there that can walk with you through challenges with emotional and mental health, including rural support.”
ABP commissioned the former-BBC broadcaster and farmer, Karen Patterson, to host the podcast at a time when the agri-food industry would normally be meeting up at summer agricultural shows which have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Image: ABPFoodGroup / Youtube