A Northern Irish farm worker has spoken out about his depression as part of Farm Safety Week in a bid to help others with similar experiences.
Chris Surgenor from Kilkeel, County Down, started noticing symptoms of depression in 2014 after a summer job as a farm worker in Essex was extended to a more permanent role.
Work had been scarce in Ireland and he decided to accept the job, moving permanently to England in February 2015.
He had been particularly worried about leaving his family – especially his grandmother – and being so far away from home, he struggled to socialise.
For a while, he was happy in his new job, but the isolation soon caught up with him.
He later almost tried to take his own life.
He said: “Farming can be such a lonely job. I would spend up to 10 hours working alone and when you have so much time on your own, you tend to overthink.”
At the time, Chris’ grandmother’s health was deteriorating and his girlfriend noticed he was becoming more distant.
His battle with Leukemia at the age of 16 prompted a long period of low mood, Chris said, which had been manageable until recently.
But 14 years later and wrestling depression, Chris felt he had to ‘man up’, be strong and get on with it, so chose not to speak about his feelings.
Eventually his relationship broke up and Chris’ condition worsened.
He developed a drinking problem and asked for some time off work, but a chance encounter with the farm owner led him to admit he was in a desperate situation.
He went to the hospital specialist mental health services which referred him, giving him anti-depressants to take whilst he waited for an appointment.
But Chris claimed they made him worse, and he hit his lowest point.
He said: “I had admitted I needed help. I was trying to find this help but no one was reassuring me and I felt like I had been abandoned.
“I wondered what is the point? I was not fit to work.
“I could not go home as everyone thinks I am happy and successful. How do I make this stop?”
Following a short course of Valium and sleeping tablets, a visit from a friend and a new dog, Chris is now on the road to recovery and said he feels passionately about encouraging others in a similar situation to educate themselves about the specialist services available to those in the farming community.
He said: “I thought mental health support was only for those in cities and I did not want to speak to them as they would not understand.
“I honestly never knew that there is help available for farmers and their loved ones. Now that I do know, I want to do something to help raise awareness of this help so that I can maybe help someone too.”
Speaking out during Farm Safety Week (July 15-19), Chris is urging anyone who is experiencing a difficult time not to be afraid to reach out for help.
The theme of this year’s and the seventh Farm Safety Week is A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Action Please, which is being led by the Farm Safety Foundation and supported by the Farm Safety Partnerships and HSE.
Chris said: “Things will get better.”
For anyone struggling with mental health issues, help can be accessed from The Farming Help partnership on 03000 111 999 or by clicking here.