A Co. Wexford dairy farmer, who is organising a commemoration Mass for family and friends of those who have died as a result of mental health issues, is urging farmers facing difficulties to reach out for help.

Patrick Hipwell was speaking in advance of the commemoration Mass at St. Colman’s Church in Ballindaggin, Co. Wexford, which will be celebrated today (Saturday, June 11) at 6:00p.m.

Macra na Feirme; See Change, Ireland’s programme dedicated to ending mental health stigma and discrimination; Awareness Head to Toe; and the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) are all involved in the holding of the commemoration Mass.

Mary Butler, Minister of State in Department of Health with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People and Barbara Brennan, See Change programme leader, will both speak at the mass.

In an interview with See Change, which is a programme of Shine, Ireland’s national organisation that provides information and support for people affected by mental ill-health and their families, Patrick who is an ambassador for the organisation, said that his personal experience started with the loss of his brother, Henry.

“I left my job, lost my brother and started a new job all in one day,” he said.

“I was farming with him but I had a full-time job as well. So in the one day, you leave your job, lose your brother and take over the family farm.

“It all happened so quick and had no impact until about Christmas and all work starts drying off and then it started affecting me because it all happened in May. I was so busy until coming up to Christmas.

“With the long dark evenings and work getting quieter, I had more time to think. That’s when it really hit me.”

Patrick said he had been working so hard, he didn’t realise his brother was gone. After spring, he got counselling but reaching out and getting help was very hard, he recalled.

“You think you’re okay, but you’re not okay,” Patrick told See Change. He also recounted the pressure he felt when he was locked up with tuberculosis (TB) and during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

“You have to draw a line when enough work is enough. You have to look at yourself and think is all the work worth it,” he said.

Mental health

Speaking about the importance of looking after individual mental health, Barbara Brennan, See Change programmes leader, said: “At See Change, we recognise the importance of supporting rural communities, in particular those from the farming community.

“It’s vital that people within the farming community are able to talk openly and honestly about their mental health and seek support when they need it.

“We are delighted to support the IFA and other organisations within this community to start having more positive and meaningful conversations about mental health.”

 In recent years, Patrick has worked to highlight the need for mental health services through initiatives such as wrapping bales in green and the turning green of Wexford County Council’s building at Carricklawn as part of See Change’s green ribbon campaign.

He got involved with See Change through Macra na Feirme at county and national executive level. His work is primarily focused on awareness raising within local communities.

Isolation is a key problem for many farmers, with financial pressure to the fore, he remarked. Anyone facing mental health difficulties should remember that someone else will have gone through the same experience.

“Just pick up the phone. You don’t have to suffer on your own,” he said.

See Change will be running its annual green ribbon campaign across the month of September to raise awareness about mental health difficulties to help end mental health stigma and discrimination.