As the issue of tackling mental health in farming remains a talking point, Danusia Osiowy looks at initiatives designed to support rural communities.
A dairy farmer and an avid rugby player has become an ambassador for a mental health campaign to help promote awareness and well-being.
Peter Hynes, who runs a 104-hectare (270-acre) unit at Aherla, Co Cork, has united with the Tackle Your Feelings campaign, which aims to reduce the stigma around mental health and provide people with the tools and resources to become more proactive in looking after their emotional well-being.
The campaign, run in partnership with Rugby Players Ireland and Zurich, was established in 2016 and has seen some of Ireland’s rugby heroes step forward to share their own stories of the challenges they have faced and have encouraged others to share their stories through the website.
A Tackle Your Feelings downloadable app has also launched, which encourages individuals to improve their mental health by using sport and positive psychology principles.
Peter says: “I believe mental well-being goes hand in hand with overall mental health and the campaign stresses the importance of becoming more proactive of its management.”
Sixteen years ago, Peter, now 42, had been suffering from depression over the course of at least two months, although he was unaware of the condition at the time.
He says: “I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t have any interest in work or life. I would often cry for no reason.”
It was only after his wife Paula, suggested he visit their GP when Peter was diagnosed with the mental health condition.
He says: “By the time I went to see the doctor it had snowballed. It is only in hindsight I wish I had gone much sooner.
“I had never heard of depression. I didn’t really know what was happening to me, but I had no control over my own thoughts and I was spiralling out of control.”
After being referred to a counsellor, Peter embarked on 12 weekly meetings to help aid his recovery and found his support outlet.
“I slowly learned how to cope with my depression and how to look more positively at things in my life. I was able to figure out my own thoughts and understand when I needed to take time out.
“The first time I met my counsellor it was daunting, but after 10 minutes, she had put me totally at ease.
“When I walked out of my first session, I felt a huge sense of relief, but then after 24 hours I would feel flat again, which gave me the encouragement to go back.”
Gradually, after three meetings, Peter began to notice an improvement and he was actively encouraged to socialise with others and plan something at least once a week to look forward to.
Asked what advice he would give to other farmers who might be struggling in similar situations, he says communication is vital.
Peter says: “Find somebody to talk to, whether it be your wife, husband, friend or GP. There is plenty of help available and you do not have to go through it on your own.
“It helps process your thoughts. When you are struggling you feel like the whole world is against you and it can be hard to look at all the positives you have in your life. It takes away the paranoia of how you feel during uncertain times.”
Reflecting back on his experience, Peter cites long hours, not getting enough sleep and other family pressures as his triggers, and recently opened up discussion when he guest-hosted Ag of the World on Twitter for one week.
He says: “I dedicated a day to raising awareness of mental health and I conducted an online poll to ask what were the main worries and stresses for farmers. I was surprised to see it was not the feeling of being isolated.
“A total of 1,000 voters said their biggest worry was financial strain, followed by family issues and fodder shortages. Isolation received just more than 10 per cent of votes.”
Following on from winning Zurich Farmer of the Year, the company approached Peter having witnessed his refreshingly open and honest manner when talking about issues of mental health.
After filming a video, which is available on the website, he is now the latest ambassador to show support and is contracted for as long as he wishes to remain in position.
Advocating the campaign’s downloadable app, Peter believes it helps users manage their life on a daily basis, identify triggers and encourages honesty.
He says: “Being honest with yourself every day is half the battle. For me, I know now I need an equal balance between work and life and if I am finding it tough, I try my best now not to bottle it up.
“We have a very busy farm and household, but finding time to look forward to other things can really help.”
Users are asked to prioritise their mental well-being in the same way as their nutrition and avoid waiting for a problem to manifest before taking action.
You are then guided through a ‘training camp’ programme, which helps to develop self-awareness while offering a chance to try out different strategies to improve mental and emotional well-being.
The tools and techniques featured in app promise to improve optimism, resilience, confidence, satisfaction, relaxation, happiness and relationships.
You can then go on to explore some of the techniques which work best for you; taking positive steps towards safeguarding your mental well-being into the future.
Through setting goals and reflecting on progress, you can expect to learn how to maximise mental well-being and gain confidence in using practical strategies to help you do so.