It’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
A week that is extremely close to my heart (although Love British Lamb week is another strong contender) as an ongoing sufferer of depression and severe anxiety for many years now.
Whilst I am not quite ready to share my entire experience with you all just yet about battling these two horrible mental diseases, I am proud to say that I am currently in an incredibly happy and positive place that younger me would never have known existed.
It is for this reason why I am joining the bandwagon (to put it colloquially) and spreading awareness about mental health on my blog, especially when considering that agriculture is a high risk industry for suicide with farmers statistically less likely to seek help.
Tip Number 1. Talking
Yes, it is horrible to talk about your mental health battle to family/friends/professionals. I speak from experience. It is never easy to admit that you cannot cope, that things are getting on top of you, that you simply can’t go on. In fact it is pretty damn hard to do and takes an incredibly amount of courage.
This is something I personally struggled doing; I couldn’t admit to my family what was happening and tried to hide it for months (highschool had to intervene in the end), I ended up shutting out my friends as it was simply easier than explaining why I was crying yet again and I was unresponsive to the various counselling methods that I was forced to attend.
Yet trying to cope alone ended up making my depression and anxiety more severe during my college years.
In hindsight, I wished I had opened up sooner and got the help I needed rather than letting it get so serious.
My advice, as a young farmer and someone who has experienced these terrible diseases first hand is just talk to someone.
Whilst I know how lonely and isolating the countryside can be (when the only other lifeform is sheep), there will always be someone or something to talk to; for instance, your best friend at YFC, the Auction Mart Café waitress, an amazing charity such as RABI, professionals like doctors, strangers (phone-lines are always available) and even your beloved sheepdog!
After all, farmers LOVE to talk and are always up for helping someone wherever and whenever they can. It is an industry that has a strong community vibe, so don’t be afraid to utilise your auction mart visits.
Getting your feelings out of your mind and into the open is such a relieving feeling and whilst you may encounter close-minded people (I know I certainly did and I let them prevent me seeking further help!) openness is key to recovery and is the reason why talking is my number one tip for mental health sufferers.
Tip Number 2. Keep On Going
It can be incredibly hard to just keep on going when fighting your mental health on a daily basis. I certainly found it draining: I was disengaged with everything, had no appetite and wanted to sleep all the time. This meant my hobbies and studies suffered as a result.
For instance, I fell out of love with playing the guitar as I got too anxious when playing in front of people and feared making mistakes.
However, I kept going, taking grade exams and attending weekly guitar lessons as I was determined not to let my illness spoil my favourite hobby.
Farmers suffering from mental health may know this feeling of giving up when faced with daunting daily routine chores. Points like ‘there is no point mucking out the cattle shed today, it’ll be covered in crap again tomorrow’ may run through their minds leading to further points such as ‘whatever I do is pointless and will make no difference’.
By ignoring this negativity and getting stuck in with daily tasks, the farmyard can offer a great distraction from the troubles occupying the mind, making you rationalise the initial problems and their consequences once you have had some time to rethink them.
So, my number two tip is keep on going. You have got this!
And if you find yourself lacking motivation, a good distraction will take your mind off your problems and allow you to rationalise it later.
Tip Number 3. Be Yourself
My final tip is to be yourself.
There is no need to be constantly comparing yourself to others, whether it’s about friends, jobs, relationships etc.
It is a fruitless exercise and I speak from experience.
It is the whole ‘the grass may be greener on the other side’ kind of thing.
Yes, others may be good farmers, have the latest machinery, are popular in the YFC scene, or have fantastic stock, but being envious won’t make you feel any better – infact it’ll make you feel worse!
Moreover, chances are, that they too have some area of their ‘perfect’ life that they would do anything to change. Like you.
So the solution is simple. Just be you and do your own thing – being an individual is far better than another sheep!
I embrace my difference, and so should you.
So those are my three top tips! Guaranteed that they aren’t the easiest, but they were the most effective for my mental health battle. I hope they are useful to you.
Here’s to the rest of Mental Health Awareness Week – get spreading the message and let’s smash the stigma surrounding it!