The 35-year old farmer and President of City of Derry, Young Farmers Club, David Devine, has shared his personal experience of poor mental health in a podcast commissioned by the agri-food company, ABP, to help the rural community stay connected during challenging times. He was speaking to the broadcaster Karen Patterson about the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the wellbeing of rural communities along with Northern Ireland’s newly appointed Interim Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill and the Chief Executive of the charity, Rural Support; Veronica Morris.
David decided to take part in the podcast in the hope that those listening could recognise the signs and feel able to ask for help, “If I had known what to look for. I let it go on and on until it got to a stage that it probably was nearly irreversible. I was dying inside. I was putting a face on it and nobody had a clue. I was able to sing and dance for an arts festival but really didn’t want to go out of the house.”
“It sounds clichéd, but I finally said, ‘I need help’. The biggest step is recognising something is not right, then take a step back and ask for help.”
Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill said that the community spirit during the Covid-19 pandemic should be harnessed as we move to a new normal so that we can continue to help one another’.
Professor O’Neill, who is also from Co. Londonderry, grew up and lives on a farm. She said that lockdown had taken its toll on those working and living in the countryside. “We are social animals and we’ve lost that social integration. Isolation can cause stress and mental health problems. Farming communities are also often doing multiple jobs as well as looking after school children. We need to attend to our mental health so that people can get the help they need.”
She emphasised her new role was about prevention first and foremost. “We need to train up members of the public to be able to have these conversations. There are so many people within rural communities that can play a stronger role. We have seen so much of that during the pandemic. So, let’s harness it.”
Professor O’Neill said she was encouraged by the renewed interest in key workers. “Farming families provide us with food. They are valued in a way they might not have been before. We appreciate our environment and outdoor spaces so hopefully farmers as custodians of that space are being valued too. We’ve learnt the value of good health and how we care for the vulnerable people in our community and those links are so important to us.”
Chief Executive of Rural Support, Veronica Morris, said the charity receives many calls and praised David’s bravery for speaking up. There is a solution for everybody. It is important to engage with professionals. The sooner you get help the sooner you can bring yourself back to yourself.”
ABP does business with around 4,000 farm families across Northern Ireland who supply beef and lamb to its processing sites in Newry and Lurgan. The company commissioned the former BBC broadcaster, Karen Patterson, to host the podcast for farm families at a time when the agri-food sector would normally be getting together at summer agricultural shows that have all been cancelled due to Coronavirus.
If you or someone you know would benefit from speaking to Rural Support, please ring our helpline on 0800 138 1678. All calls are confidential, the helpline is available 9am-9pm, Monday to Friday (alternative support options available at all times).