Life as a Farmer

by See Change Ambassador, Patrick Hipwell

During November we are 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. This month we want to show the many different types of men there are in the world and why each of their voices is 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 does your day to day look like working a farm? 

You get up in the morning, you get a glass of water, you do the milkin’, feed all the cows and calves and then I go and make my own breakfast. Then you go back out and do all the other chores that need to be done. Then you get your dinner when it’s done; I’ve to look after my father as well. Then we have to go do the shopping, look after the cows and calves, milk them…feed them. Check all your stock is alright. 7 or 8 o clock, time for supper, do paperwork, maybe you have some sales to do.” 

That’s a lot to be doing every day” 

And that’s Saturday and Sunday too. The paperwork will always be pushed off but there’ll always be other jobs. You could be down for a few hours and then going again. Back to work. Back to work in the evening.” 

What has been your mental health experience so far? 

My mental health experience started the loss of my brother Henry, who passed away and one day what happened was I got the word he had passed away. I left my job, lost my brother and started a new job all in one day. All in the one day. I was farming with him. But I had a full-time job as well… so in the one day you leave your job, lose your brother and take over the family farm in one day. 

It all happened so quick and had no impact until about Christmas and all work starts drying off and then it started effecting me ’cause when it all happened in May… I was so busy up till… coming up to Christmas, long dark evenings, works getting quieter and I had more time to think. That’s when it really hit me. It didn’t hit me till then.” 

“OK, so even up until then you haven’t processed even the loss of your brother.” 

No…’cause every day up go, go, go, go, go. Yeah, then everything caught up on me. 

“What was that experience then?” 

“So, everything then. It’s just like you come to a dead end in your life. Didn’t know what’s going on. You’ve after been working so hard and didn’t realise your brother was gone. Didn’t realise what had happened to yourself so I had to get help then. It continued for a good while. Yeah, it continued on for a while and then after spring I got help, counselling. But reaching out and getting help was…it’s very hard to very hard to ask for help.” 

“Why do you think that is?”  

“It’s hard ’cause you don’t realise that you need the help. You think you’re OK, but you’re not OK. I think the biggest problem was when you were growing up. You never realised that you had to reach out for help when you need it. People don’t realise; you’re not trained to ask for the help you need. But the last couple of years now people do. If you need it, it’s there for you. People are more aware of mental health problems than they were back 17 year ago. If someone talked or if you went to work 17 year ago with a mental health problem, no one would talk to you or work with ya. Nowadays, in 2021 at least, people are starting to talk about their mental health problems” 

“Was the loss of your brother something that you struggled with then for years to come?” 

“You have to manage for years ‘cause there is always things that come back to you that remind you of him. You get hold of those days. It’ll always come back to ya. You never know why or what happened. You have no answer…. even maybe going back to that…even when you’re selling someone stock… that had passed away, selling their stock was very hard thing to do. Selling animals that your brother had. Your brother had animal stock and you’re selling his animals. It’s not that easy thing to do. You go to a farm and take over. Selling someone stock that they should be doing, and you’re doing it for them…. It’s like you bring out the stock to sell, you’re bringing a part of him.”’ 

Do you think mental health stigma exists within the rural community and amongst farmers? 

“It probably does stick a lot with them. It looked bad that day, cause you’ve no one to turn to. To express your feelings. There’s no one there. Even the next day when you went home after selling the stock, you feels sad for doing it. Not having, not knowing who to talk to.” 

“Would that be common amongst rural communities?” 

“Sure, would be common. ‘Cause probably people’s parents moved on and took over the family farm. Or sell their stock and maybe someone took an uncle’s farm and the same thing. It’s probably common enough for people but don’t realise it. It’ll catch up on you, it might go away but eventually it will catch up. There will be times where you’re lower in yourself. Eventually it will catch up on you. It might take…. could take six months later but it will catch up. You start feeling the pressure and everyone starts getting over and moving on. I didn’t realise I was getting down. Everybody had the loss and done the grieving beforehand but because I got busy and worked like hell, it caught up with me when the time came.” 

“Do you think rural men or farmers are more reluctant to talk about their mental health?” 

“They’re probably more likely to bottle up and say nothing about it. At the end they don’t know where to reach out and ask for help. Probably because there are a lot of cases where people are at home working on their own all day, and they don’t realise it. No one to talk to or explain it.” 

What are some of the pressures you face and does this impact your mental health? 

“When I was restricted with TB on the farm, it put a lot of pressure on. People may not realise but I’m…. I was locked up with TB. It was restricted to cattle. It meant longer hours working… stock I couldn’t sell. More feeding had to be got. More longer hours work. You had to go off looking for feeding, finance is very difficult that time….because you’re getting food and you had to cancel stuff if you can’t make the payments. And it was 2018. I went clear….I was locked down for two year.” 

“What kind of pressure is that?” 

“The pressure  full on. I went down in January and the cows were starting to calve. And the cows would normally move on to be sold to the next farmer. I keep my 10 replacements out. Then the calves and bulls I don’t want be brought to market and sold on. So that means that year I couldn’t bring them to market to sell. So, I had to house them, feed them every day as long with everything else. So normally I should have 100 stock, but I had about 200 stock. Covid is probably worse than anything.” 

“Would you say so?” 

“Ah yeah, so people can’t move and can’t go to the pub for a drink. Cup of tea. 

“Would you say within the rural community and farmers in general… because you’ve spent so much time on your farm, is having those opportunities…to meet someone just for a quick hello, important?” 

Ah it is, yeah. Someone to say hello to. It could be days, before you see someone. You just get used to it after a while. Eventually it’s not good for you. Like even now coming up to Christmas now with local choirs, we practise. We can’t get to that now. There are older people who come to the choir just to meet and have the chat….there’s not just me from the farm background… there’s older people living on their own. Maybe that’s their only way of getting into the community. Getting out meeting people too. There’s only so much Fair City you can take.” 

With the pressures of running a farm, how would a person find time for their mental health? 

“You have to draw a line when enough work is enough. You have to look at yourself and think is all the work worth it.” 

“Have you, in the past had to do that …to draw that line?” 

“I’m probably more or less doing that at the momentYou know at the stage I’m at now… even during covid had me thinking…..is all this work even worth it? Would you be better off with less work and more time out for yourself? You know, you look at it. Look at it in life…you will always have work…but you won’t always have family. Your mother and father would be gone. You slip away. You’re on your own then. So, is family worth more or is work worth more?” 

“When a person reaches that point of needing help, what would be the barriers people from rural communities and farmers face when accessing healthcare?” 

Probably the biggest fear with a lot of people would be if they have to sit back…. That people think they’ve given up too easy. Why is he giving up? Why ain’t he working? Why is he going off in the car on a fine day….why ain’t he workin? People probably think they let down their family and not working hard is the biggest fear. You know, people like seeing family doing well but when they start slipping back, they don’t. Everyone must have the big targets of big games.” 

What has been your experience since openly discussing your mental health experience? 

“Since I started talking a lot of people realise that they have a problem. Glad I’ve done it. That’s why I started wrapping bales in green, so people driving and see the green and know what it’s…for mental health and now even other farms wrapped theirs. Even people driving by and not from a farming background see the Green and know the reason why it’s brilliant.” 

“What did you find helpful when you decided you wanted to start openly talking?” 

“Probably the work with See Change is what helped me. When See Change was getting going, 10 year ago now, I was Macra county chair at the time. So Green Ribbon then start going…I was county chair two year then….representing the Macra in county and national level as well. And then I went down to national council representative then the Green Ribbon really kicked in. So, between Macra and See Change I started going with it. 

The first time we were doing something on mental health we were doing a seminar conference down in Cork….and then we had volunteers up talking. I was a volunteer up talking. I remember that morning saying “This could drive people wrong all together” “Should I do this or should I not do it?” I was driving down anyhow and got up and talked. People clapped at the end of the talk and people met me afterwards and thanked me. That’s what gave me the real confidence to do it. People were going through it and needed someone to get up and talk about it.” 

What do you do to make sure you have time to look after your mental health? 

“How more or less I keep on top of it is…you know George? There’s a group of farmers and we all help each other when we’re all going down through bad times and tough times. We all link in. If George is going through a bad day, he can ring me, or I will ring him. Even going to tractor runs is what we organise… going for nature walks.” 

“That’s your people. You know…They know what you go through day in and day out.” 

“And I know what they go through. Yeah, and Macra was great. Helped me over the years. I always have an outlet in them” 

Is there a message you’d like to finish on? 

“When kids move off to college….never forget their parents. ‘Cause it happens quite a lot of places where kids are moved off and moving out the friends while their parents could still be at home. They’re in the house on their own….and find it difficult or not. But if the kids make sure make time for their parents, we don’t know the time will come when they might not be there. Yeah, just remember, when you move from home, just don’t forget about your parents.” 

 


If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following

Shine: phil@shine.ie

 

Samaritans: 116123

 

Pieta House: 1800 247 247

 

YourMentalHealth.ie: 1800 742 444

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