Farming and mental health
by Patrick Hipwell, See Change Ambassador
Throughout November, have been focusing on men’s voices as they speak openly about their mental health. We often have a certain view and expectation of what it means to be a man. Our aim is to show the many different types of men there are in the world and why each of their voices are important.
This week, we are focusing on rural men and farmers. We sat down with See Change Ambassador, Patrick Hipwell, to talk about his life as a farmer, the pressures he faces, what his day-to-day life looks like and why he chooses to openly talk about his mental health experience.
What has been your mental health experience so far?
Working hard, long hours and cash flow has been a big problem of mine.
Do you think mental health stigma exists within the rural community and amongst farmers?
There is still stigma among young farmers, but it’s getting better as the years go on. People are more aware of talking about it now than they were before.
Do you think rural men or farmers are more reluctant to talk about their mental health?
They were, but they’re slowly coming around and getting better at talking about their problems.
What do you think made that change?
Well, the awareness of the Green Ribbon and wrapping the bales in green are making people more aware about mental health problems. They might think that no one else has problems, but actually other people have your same problems and when you talk about them, you can share them out.
Was it difficult to seek help?
It was very hard because I didn’t know what was going on at the time. I didn’t realise it was a problem until I talked about it and got it sorted out.
And what made you speak out about what was going on for you?
I went to an IFA meeting one of the nights and one of the IFA men asked how I was, and I just told him about my problems. He talked to me and then put me on the right track.
Do you think joining groups like the IFA help?
Yes, definitely. And Macra na Feirme as well have been a big help. I have done a big campaign with them around mental health as well. When I started talking about my problems, I realised other people had problems. I didn’t realise it meant so much to other people as well.
What are some of the pressures you face and does this impact your mental health?
Isolation is a big problem. I’m on my own all day with no one to talk to. I think this affects a lot of farmers.
Are there any particular problems you face or that farmers face that other people don’t?
I think everyone faces problems. I lost my brother to suicide and believe everyone has problems. Just like the good times, the bad times don’t always stay around.
I’m sure losing your brother was very difficult and impacted your own mental health?
Yeah, it was very difficult, ’cause I’ll never know the reason why – you always wonder why.
What did you find helpful when you decided you wanted to start openly talking about your mental health difficulties?
Working with groups like See Change has helped a lot because there’s no big barrier in your way and there’s always somebody you know you can rely on. It’s a tough road on your own so you want someone who knows to help put you on the right track.
Was there any other specific support you reached out to?
Family lights service that was before counselling. I was actually down there doing a cycle with them a fortnight ago.
You have joined Macra Na Feirme and you are in a choir also. What is the benefit of being in groups like these?
I’m not a good singer, but I sing. I can’t hit those notes perfect but I do the best I can. The choir is great at this time of year because with the long dark evenings there’s somewhere to go and something to do coming up to Christmas. You get the chance to talk to people in the community.
What do you do to make sure you have time to look after your mental health?
You just have to make time. Take time out for yourself. Tractor Runs are a great way of getting out and away from the farm. You get to talk to people in the same type of business as you as well. I also go for walks in nature, I did the See Change, IFA and Collite walks this year and I found they were great. Nice to get out and walk somewhere different. And having a chat and a cup of tea is the most important thing – and a chocolate biscuit!
Is there a message you’d like to finish on?
Don’t get too busy making a living that you forget to live a life.
Have you ever heard of mass paths?
No, can you tell us about them?
Years ago, people used to have shortcuts they would take when trying to get church to say their masses. When you walk along the path, you came to a stye which is like a ditch and you have to slow down take your steps to get out across and get down the other side. If you think about it, mental health is something the same – you walk along perfect in your life and then there’s a stoppage in your life; you have to stop, take some time to get over the hump. And when you’re at the other side you can walk on again and things will work out for you.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following