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Sunday 24 September 2017

Living in Rural Ireland: How can you farm when you can’t think what day of the week it is?

Living in Rural Ireland series: One man’s struggle with bipolar depression

Stock photo
Stock photo
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Michael was first hospitalised with depression after his wife found him sitting in a field.

It was the early 1980s and he’d had a few tough years on his farm in Co. Meath. There had been bad weather for two years and he was struggling to manage the farm.

“I remember the lead up to it, my concentration was gone. My ability to organise things was gone. On the farm, you are a one-man show, and I was having to spend more and more time doing things that should take no time.”

But his earliest memories that things were not right mentally went back to his early days in school.

Teachers thought he was lazy, but a good Leaving saw Michael going to study science at University.

“But I couldn’t understand when the exams came around that I was looking at the books and you’d think by osmosis that the information would go in and come up at you. But, I couldn’t take it in and failed the first year exams. I was devastated. In one of the exams I had to walk out, the stress of it and I couldn’t comprehend what was wrong. Later in life, when I got a diagnosis I found out why.”

He failed first year on a second attempt and went farming, but farming can be isolating and this did not help with his condition.

“My wife knew I could be moody, or sombre about things. But I was running a farm that was heavily borrowed and two wet years in a row, pushed the farm and me to the limit.

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“The previous year I lost seven cows, two in one night in July, with grass tetany and it was very stressful. My wife found me sitting down in the middle of the field – I didn’t’ know where I was and I ended up in hospital.”

Michael was then diagnosed with depression, but with his late father’s help and using Farm Relief Services the farm was kept running.

During this time, he was put on medication which has helped him get back on his feet again. Michael relapsed a year or two later and was diagnosed with bipolar. But, with the help of his doctor, he was put on medication which he still takes daily.

With the support of his wife and family, Michael continued to farm, as he had a young family to support and educate. Around this time, he first went to the Aware meetings, but with long hours and spring calving he decided he would need to exit dairy farming, which he did as soon as his children were educated.

He says Aware helped him develop coping skills and learn how to deal with his illness. “Aware meetings was a place I could meet ordinary people. It seems extraordinary that people could go in to talk about depression and come out smiling.”

One of the reasons people keep away from openly saying they have a problem is the stigma, he says.

“People will put up with a lot before they say ‘there is something wrong with my head’ as there is a perception that if you can’t organise your head you’re crazy. And it’s these terms that don’t help people deal with mental issues, he says.

This week, at the Ploughing Championships, Aware is promoting its services in rural Ireland.

Aware Director of Services Brid O’Meara says its life skills programmes, which are run all over the country, are designed to help people suffering with depression and bipolar acquire the skill set to deal with mental health issues.

The Aware tent will be hosted by ESB Networks at the Ploughing.


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