As part of our new series to raise health awareness within the farming community, we talk to two individuals with two very different experiences of mental health issues.
Jenna Ballantyne, 30, from Strathhaven, works at Lanarkshire Market and is secretary at Lanarkshire Holstein Club and Lanark and Peebles Sheep Breeders Association. She was diagnosed with depression and sought treatment.
She says: “Admitting to yourself you are ill with depression is the first hurdle. The second, is seeking the help and guidance you require – and sooner rather than later. The third is facing everyone else. “Having already had undiagnosed depression back in 2008- 2009, the signs were all there, and this time a lot worse. “I had a short, sharp temper.
Some days I didn’t want to get out my bed to go to work, or even go out on the farm, and I love both of these. “I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and didn’t want to be here – a scary thought when you think back.
“You ask yourself what caused it all the time and I put it down to a multitude of things – a relationship break-up, peer pressure, a lack of support from individuals who seemed to think I was a robot, although many still seem to think I am. I have learned I have to slow down.
“Just because you are not showing you are ill on the outside, doesn’t mean you are not ill on the inside. But the pain on the inside is so much harder to heal and a very long process – it’s not just an overnight illness.
“You can patch up a cut with a plaster. With depression, you can’t, and as it is, I run the risk of it coming back again in later life. “I had great support from close friends and help from my mum. I began taking tablets, which are not a quick fix, but they do help, and I had a very understanding doctor, too.
“I was signed off work for just over two weeks, not nice over Christmas and New Year when you should be filled with cheer and not sorrow. “Unfortunately, all I wanted to do was sleep. I ate what I wanted and when I wanted. I was allowed no alcohol, or the side effects could end in tears and reverse the good the tablets were there to do.
“I carried on life as normally as possible, with a two-farm lambing and calving to contend with over the spring months.
“I love showing my Texels and Beltex sheep at shows, but with everything going on, these had to get cut back only attending the smaller, more local shows and taking a year out from Ayr Show and the Highland Show.
“The girls looked after me and we still attended Balmoral Show, Royal Highland Show and Great Yorkshire Show. I was determined this illness wasn’t going to stop me from having a life and I wasn’t going to sit about and wallow.
“Show circuit friendships and the banter we had is the best cure and helped get me on the road to recovery. I was never embarrassed about having the illness, in fact I told people when I saw them.
To say they were shocked was an understatement, but it is amazing how much a ‘smile’ and a ‘happy attitude’ can cover up. People did laugh about your behind you back, but at the end of the day, I will always be the stronger person for coming out the other side and I got my life back on track.
“Now, moving forward, I am a lot better, with a different attitude to life. I no longer take tablets, my relationship with my parents is the strongest it has ever been and we talk a lot more now than we ever did. I just take each day as it comes. Most days are good days now, but I still get the occasional bad one, and deal with it as best as I can.
“My advice to anyone who thinks they may be suffering from depression is to firstly admit to yourself that you have a problem, then secondly find the courage and go and talk to your doctor, who will help you get on to the road to recovery, and to not be afraid to talk about it – more people have depression than you think, but tend to bottle it up rather than open up.
Don’t be afraid to speak up – help is available.”
After the tragic death of her husband, Emma Picton– Jones launched a foundation to improve mental health awareness among farmers in Wales. “On July 5 last year my world was turned upside down.
Until then I was an average 28-year-old, married with two children and a full-time job, juggling the stresses of everyday life. “But that morning I woke up to find my husband Daniel missing. He had suffered with his mental health for a long time, but I still did not expect what had happened. Daniel had taken his own life. “My world was thrown into a spiral.
So many questions were unanswered and an uncertain life faced my family. Daniel had suffered with mental health issues his entire life and despite his calm, happy exterior, inside he was crippled with anxiety and depression.
He never felt there were any options for him, he felt he couldn’t talk to anyone as no one would understand. “He left a lengthy note, mostly comprised of statements depicting his state of mind. But there was one element of his letter which really stayed with me. He wrote: ‘You weren’t able to save me but you can try and save someone else’.
“This sentence swam around in my head and the day after Daniel’s death, I set up a charity called The DPJ Foundation to support others suffering from mental health problems in Wales.
I wanted to use his name to make a difference. “We decided our work would focus on Pembrokeshire, a rural area with particular disadvantages for those suffering with mental health problems. It is a community where everyone knows everyone and admitting supposed frailties isn’t an option.
Mental health problems are too often perceived as a weakness and not talked about. “Pembrokeshire also has a huge agricultural community. Farming is a male-dominated industry and one of high stress, especially in recent times, as bovine tuberculosis rates hit crisis level and many farmers face plummeting milk prices.
The DPJ Foundation has raised £18,000 so far, through donations and fundraising events. “Initially this money is being used to train people within the agricultural sector in mental health awareness.
By training vets, feed reps and others who work in the industry, it is hoped we can give them the tools to support those they see on a daily basis. It is widely known farmers are a stubborn breed and we hope by taking the support to them, rather than waiting for people to seek it themselves, we can provide help for those in need.
“The DPJ Foundation is very much in the early stages of its development, but we already have plans for counselling support and group support work next year. “We hope another family will not have to suffer the loss mine has.”