'No matter how bad things are, there is a bright side' - top farmer on how he overcame depression
Top farmer Peter Hynes on how he overcame depression to land the Farmer of the Year Award
'Don't bury your head in the sand there is no problem too big to deal with," said farmer Peter Hynes as he addressed the hundreds of farm families gathered to see the achievements made on the 104ha farm at Aherla in Co Cork.
Since openly discussing his own bout of depression that caught him offguard around 16 years ago, the Zurich Farm Insurance Farming Independent Farmer of the Year has had others reaching out to him in the farming community seeking help.
"If you just find someone you don't know and have a good chat or finding a good counsellor - that is the cure to those problems," said Peter, who along with his wife and childhood sweetheart Paula, and their three girls, now call the Co Cork farm home.
"If you have financial or agricultural problems in the farm, Teagasc are there to help and the banks are there to help.
"Don't bury your head in the sand there is no problem too big to deal with," he said.
"It is very easy to deal with problems, they can be made very small, very quick and you can move forward from there.
"You realise that no matter how bad things are there is a bright side to things too."
He explained that was why the family had selected Aware and Breast Cancer Ireland as the two charities that would benefit from the roughly €15,000 raised by farmers and the many companies that attended and supported the walk on their farm.
Neither Paula or Peter grew up on farms but when Peter's stepfather Geoffrey Good wanted to step back they took up the reins in partnership.
Mental health is a huge issue in farming globally, Peter pointed out.
"Around 16 years ago I started to have a tough time, it was probably a combination of a few things. I'd been working 90-100 hours a week, wasn't getting out enjoying myself, lacked a bit of confidence and a couple of other issues all combined to really get me down. I suppose you could say I was depressed, everything seemed in my eyes to be going downhill.
"It got to the stage where I would just break down crying - all due to over-thinking life.
"Eventually it was impacting on my work and everything else. I went to the doctor, he gave me the number of a counsellor called Mary. So I rang."
Peter recalls that it was nerve wracking working up the courage to go in the first day.
"I was told it was totally confidential once I wasn't planning on harming myself. An hour later I felt relief." He went home longing for the next appointment as he found the relief lasted a short time. "I met Mary a few times a week and we chatted about life in general and what was bothering me.
"As the good days began to outweigh the bad, I began to meet her less and less.
"Eventually she said that if I felt ready I could take a break and return if I ever needed.
"I'll never forget Mary, she transformed how I felt in such a simple friendly way."
Peter admits it can still be tough standing up in front of groups to talk. "I would always question myself too - is my work, our farm and our herd performing well enough," he says, admitting that sometimes it can be difficult to keep his levels of confidence up.
"I manage it by trying to have a laugh every day. I find life is too short not to laugh."
I actually cried due to being totally overwhelmed.
Peter describes how winning Farmer of the Year gave the whole family a lift, as they realised that a panel of judges and their peers could see the achievements they were making. "We were surrounded by people at the awards and in the Sunday morning I walked up the farm to an empty yard. I actually cried due to being totally overwhelmed.
"It took me a few days to get my head around it. I try to surround myself with people, discussion groups and I love having Paula work beside me every day. I try to help people as best I can, simply because I understand what it feels like to be at the lowest point and I like to see people get on well in life."
It's only in the last few weeks that Peter started to tell his own story to others, as until then no-one but Paula knew. "I found it tough but found relief by sharing my story. It's hard to know what way people will take it and what they will think of me.
"I'm glad I did, as I've since met people who are having a tough time and they've reached out to me. Depression has such a simple cure for many, just finding someone good to talk to can help.
"Problems that seem huge nearly always have an easy answer. I know if farmers are having problems Teagasc are always there to support and the banks are willing to discuss issues. I'd recommend that every farmer join a discussion group.
"We all need to look out for each other."
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