Every farming family in the country has been touched by depression, either directly or indirectly,” says David Kerr.

David tells the story of his own battle with depression and says that the farming sector is “behind the curve” when it comes to talking about mental health.

The dairy farmer from Co Laois spoke publicly about his illness earlier this year at the Irish Farmers Journal dairy meeting, hoping to encourage other farmers to do the same.

“Very few farmers have spoken out about depression, it’s still a stigma. It needs to be normalised like other illnesses.

“Mental health is a big topic everywhere now, but nobody wants to talk in the farming sector, we’re still a little bit behind the curve,” he says.

David’s own struggle with his mental health began around 2008, during which it was a very stressful time, he says. It was a combination of a lot of things really.

There was lots of activity, lots of organisation to be done around the farm, paperwork, a family health issue, and then the weather turned bad towards the end of the year, so it was a stressful time.

“I was incapable of filling out forms or doing paperwork. I couldn’t maintain concentration and I would keep making mistakes – it was impossible. When I was on the farm my mind would be drifting. A farmyard can be a dangerous enough place when you’re in full health, let alone when you’re struggling mentally.

“I suffered from insomnia, I lost all interest in the farm, and I had no will to work,” he says.

It was only when his family noticed his change in mentality that he eventually sought medical help. He was diagnosed with reactive depression, a form of depression caused by stress.

“I didn’t know what was going on. I’d never been depressed before so I didn’t recognise the symptoms.

“My family members ended up organising my life and the farm, because I was incapable of doing anything for about six or seven months,” he says.

Eight years down the road, David is in good place mentally, following medical advice on how to keep depression at bay. He surrounds himself with good company and is no longer afraid to take breaks or seek an extra pair of hands whenever needed.

“Farmers have a tendency to complain about things, about prices, the weather – we’re our own worst enemy. Try to be positive and mix with positive people, because negative people will wear you down.

“It’s great to get outdoors, away from the farm, and I’m prepared to take a break now and again. I focus on labour-saving methods more these days and I try and get a student in to give a hand in the spring,” he says.

“Farmers need to look out for one another more, and not be afraid of confiding,” says David.

“I have a few close friends that I have no hesitation talking to. So if you spot a change in someone’s mentality, don’t be slow to express your concern to a family member – before it’s too late,” he says.

Mental Health

How common is depression? It is very common and affects almost 500,000 people in Ireland. Anybody, regardless of age, gender or background, can be affected. It is normal for us to feel down from time to time, but when low mood is affecting our daily lives, sapping energy and making it difficult to concentrate, it’s a huge problem.

What symptoms will I notice? We may all experience the symptoms listed below during our lifetime. However, experiencing more than one of these on a sustained basis means that you may be suffering from depression:

  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in your friends and daily activities.
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Weight loss or poor appetite.
  • Loss of energy and concentration.
  • Consuming more alcohol than usual or engaging in reckless behaviour.

    Who can I talk to if I think I have depression? When we are depressed, we sometimes don’t want to talk about how we feel. However, having the courage to talk to a family member or a friend is something we find very helpful. If this is not an option, speaking to your GP is another positive step towards addressing depression. There are also telephone and online resources, such as the Samaritans (call 116123) or Mental Health Ireland (www.aware.ie) that can be of huge benefit.

    What can I do to tackle my depression? If we are depressed, we always recommend to talk to somebody about it. There are other methods, however, that can be useful to address and protect against depression. Regular exercise, which releases chemicals that lift our mood, socialising with friends and family, healthy eating, and a good night’s sleep can all make a huge difference.

    Depression in older men: The challenges that older adults face – such as bereavement, loss of independence, and health issues – can lead to depression. However, depression is not a normal part of ageing. Depression in older adults is associated with poor health and an increased risk of suicide, so diagnosis and treatment are extremely important.

    – Dr Jack Halligan, Full Health