A dairy producer from Northern Ireland shares his story about dealing with what he calls the ‘black hood’ of depression
Three years ago, Northern Ireland dairy farmer Adam Watson was not in a good place. Stress from falling milk prices and his forthcoming wedding started to affect his mental health.
Little did Watson know then that those pressures would boil over and push him to a point where he seriously considered taking his own life.
Watson, 38, is now in a much better place, happily married to Laura and enjoying being a father to the couple’s seven-month-old son, Abel.
Watson has recently been telling his own mental health story in a bid to encourage others to stop suffering in silence and ask for help.
In partnership with his father Willard, Watson milks 120 cows at the family farm near Coleraine. For the first few years after returning home to farm from university, life as a dairy farmer went well.
Then things took a turn and the past three years have been tough for Watson, as milk prices fell from 60 to 29 cents per litre.
“As I watched our overdraft of £50,000 ($85,000) max out, and a further extension of £30,000 ($50,000) also reach the limit, the financial pressures started to get to me.
“It turned out, I was completely over-reacting to those pressures, but as my wedding to Laura was approaching on Oct. 1, 2016, it all was getting too much.”
The extremes of his depression almost caused him to take his own life one day, when he found himself crying uncontrollably.
“That morning I was walking down the lane to change the electric fence to allow the cows more space to graze,” he said. “I felt relatively OK but suddenly everything in my head began to build up. I started to cry uncontrollably but didn’t want anyone to see me so I ran to the hedge and sat under a big tree.
“I didn’t understand what was happening or why I was crying. It felt like a black hood had closed around me. I felt alone and I couldn’t tell anybody what was happening.
“As I sat on my knees below that tree, with my hands balling earth and grass together, I realized something. I realized in that moment, that I didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
Watson held himself together for the wedding but he knew something was affecting his mental health and he found it difficult to talk to anyone about it.
“Almost three weeks after my wedding day, I went to see the doctor about a rash on my arm. Things in my head were particularly bad that day.”
He said the doctor diagnosed psoriasis and prescribed a cream.
“He expected me to get up, say my thanks and go. I wanted to take the prescription and run out the door. But I knew I’d have to face Laura when I got home.”
Watson asked the doctor what was causing the psoriasis and the doctor couldn’t say for certain but it got his attention. Watson asked more questions and the doctor became more curious and that is when Watson broke down and cried.
“I guess that was the first stage of me opening up about my depression. That appointment brought me a sense of clarity because I had a better understanding of what was going on but it also brought a new set of problems in how to deal with it,” he said.
“I call my depression the black hood. Depending on what’s happening, this hood can be anywhere on my head. At the minute and in general it lays limply on my shoulders.
“Sometimes if I’m stressed or sometimes for no particular reason at all, it can start to rise up my neck. After three years I’m getting better at spotting this. When it’s in this position, I know I need to do something to stop it rising on up.”
Watson admitted that farmers have a reputation of complaining a lot and it is a stigma he would like to shed.
“Over the years, we’ve built up a reputation as an occupation of moaners who are subsidized by the government and drive around in Land Rovers and big tractors crying that they are on the bread line,” he said.
He added that farming is in the top 10 professions for suicide in the United Kingdom. In a recent survey of farmers younger than 40, 81 percent listed mental health as the current biggest challenge to the industry, he said.
He credited his wife for being a tower of strength throughout his battle with depression, and together with professional help, she knows to look more closely for the signs.
“Farming is a time-consuming occupation,” she said. “Adam and I discuss everything in more detail these days and he will tell me if his mental health is suffering again.
“If that happens then all of us can go for a short break away from the farm to get away from it all, which should help.”
For Watson, the situation has changed. They are building a new $250,000 barn for the cows and he said he has no problematic thoughts about spending the money.
“Laura and Abel, with my wider family, are a good source of strength for me and we freely discuss everything, which helps me a lot,” he said.
“Telling others about my depression was the hardest thing I have ever done but I can’t explain the release I felt after doing so.
“I really do encourage other farmers, or anyone suffering in silence, to speak out and not be one bit afraid to do so. It might just save your life.”
To read a blog that Adam Watson wrote about his depression, visit adams2016.home.blog/.