Mental health suffers from a major image problem. One in three young adults experienced mental health problems last year – yet still, it seems like we have no idea how to talk about it respectfully or responsibly.
Stigma and discrimination are the two biggest obstacles to public discussions about mental health in all walks of life. Indeed, the problem seems to be largely one of communication. It takes great courage to talk about an intimate experience. There is always the risk of oversharing or making others uncomfortable. This is especially true when talking about mental health.
People still think that it’s shameful if they have a mental illness. They think it shows personal weakness. They think it shows a failing. If it’s your child who has the mental illness, you think it reflects your failure as a parent. This self-inflicted stigma can make it difficult for people to speak about even their own mental health problems.
If there is one thing we have learned over the past few years of delivering Mind Your Head that is; mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, geography, income, social status, sexual orientation or other aspect of cultural identity. While mental illness can occur at any age, three-quarters of all mental illness begins by age 24.
One young person who identifies with this and who has offered his support for the campaign is 23 year old Jonathan Glen, young farmer and student at Harper Adams University.
At 18 years of age, Jonathan left his home, family and friends to travel to New Zealand to work on a 200 hectare dairy farm managing a herd of 600. Within weeks, and at the height of milk production, Jonathan was left in charge of the herd and soon realised that he was quite depressed.
Jonathan says his situation was triggered by the isolation he felt on a farm in the middle of nowhere with no family or close friends nearby and his identity changed as a result. He explains:
“I’d think, ‘Who the hell am I? What am I doing here? What am I going to do with my life? I’ve got no money and I’m literally in the middle of nowhere.”
Thankfully Jonathan was able to recognise this rollercoaster of depression from similar symptoms experienced by a friend who showed him there was a way to deal with it through self-help and so began his journey and importantly, as he says, he started talking.
On his return to the UK, Jonathan enrolled at Harper Adams University where he has built up a close group of friends who listen to his fears, understand his struggle and recognise those situations when he reaches the cusp of a depression cycle.
“Through introspection and surrounding myself with friends who understand and accept my situation, I can harness their support and intuition and also educate them on how common mental health issues are.”
Now fighting fit, Jonathan is keen to support anyone experiencing mental health issues and raise awareness of the help available to farmers and families within the farming community at difficult times. Jonathan and his friend Alan Walker recently undertook a mammoth challenge, driving 15,000km to Mongolia in a Mazda MX5 to raise money for the Farming Community Network (FCN). The charity has a network of over 400 volunteers across England and Wales, many involved in farming with a real understanding of the issues farm workers and farming families regularly face. According to Jonathan:
“Mental health in agriculture matters. Having had my own battle with mental health while farming, I appreciate the seriousness of the cause”
If you read this and wonder are there ways you can personally assist someone struggling with mental illnesses, just realise that love promotes action and it is imperative that we all work together to help break that stigma surrounding mental health.
The results can be life-saving. Start the conversation and defend the matter of mental health.
For more information on the work of the Farming Community Network please visit www.fcn.org.uk