Case study: 'Don't let pride stop you from getting help'
Depression is widespread in farming, but it's rarely talked about. Yet it can quietly and invisibly wreck lives. This was almost Martin's story before he sought help. He has experienced intense bouts of depression over recent years, which at points have left him unable to work, left him estranged from his family and friends, and even led him to thoughts of suicide.
Martin's depression had been coming and going over the years. Working long hours on the farm with insufficient income to meet over-extended banking facilities began to impact on daily living and family relationships. Martin's wife was bringing in a regular income that was maintaining family needs. However, that was reduced significantly when her work hours were reduced.
Martin had not been sharing with his wife the demands being made by the bank to settle business arrangements. Debt was accumulating with suppliers, now also looking for payments. There was a lot more going on, third-level education was on the horizon. Farmyard maintenance had been left unattended; the tractor needed an overhaul.
There was so much going on for Martin that he felt he couldn't cope, experiencing more anger, despair, hopelessness and the inclination to lash out unfairly at family members. It had reached a point where he didn't want to get out of bed, so that meant Martin's wife and children had to pick up the pieces. Their children were missing out on school regularly.
"Depression is an illness, but one that people outside your immediate family sometimes can't see," Martin said. "If I'd broken my arm, it would be understandable that I could not farm efficiently. It would be visible and acceptable, not so with depression. If they did, they might have understood what I was going through."
During Martin's worse phase, he lost his ability to make decisions, had little or no energy, and the inability to concentrate, even to maintain a conversation. "I felt like an emotional wreck, and did not wish to admit it, to anyone, including my family. I did not recognise myself and at times I had no desire to carry on."
Listening to ongoing pleas from his wife to at least see the family doctor was the first step to change. "Almost immediately I was diagnosed with depression. I foolishly thought by taking anti-depressants that I was going to change overnight. I did not. My journey was slower than I expected.
"I took advice and went for a number of counselling sessions. This provided me with the opportunity to share problems that I had bottled up. For the first time I began to realise the benefit of opening up and talking to other people. I began to feel less overwhelmed, became more open with my wife and children. They had gone through a very difficult period.
"The counselling helped me understand depression and I've learned to know what can trigger me off and the early warning signs that depression could be setting in again. I try to keep things in perspective, make sure I eat regularly and build exercise into my day's work. I'm more involved in my children's education, their school activities and have agreed with my wife that we take regular weekend breaks and go to occasional social functions."
Martin's best advice is to urge anyone feeling like he did to talk to someone who they can confide in. It might be your wife; another close family member, but it could be anyone. Ask them to help you get through it. Similarly, if you think a family member has depression, guide them in the right direction by encouraging them to see their GP or by getting them to talk about it.
Martin cannot answer what caused his depression. "I wish I could put my finger on it, but I can't. Without doubt it was a combination of things that gradually got worse. I'm sorry for what happened but I do not carry shame about my experience. When I realised I could not manage, I sought help. That is what anyone should do. Pride or thinking about what others will think should not come into it. You have to take personal responsibility and to get better."
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