‘I don’t know when the black dog of depression is going to turn up:’ Manager opens up on the issue of suicide

PUBLISHED: 16:26 10 February 2020 | UPDATED: 07:58 11 February 2020

Anthony Hagen and his daughter. Pic: submitted

Anthony Hagen and his daughter. Pic: submitted

A British Sugar manager has spoken of how he almost took his own life but got help just in time – opening up to promote awareness of a new campaign.

Melinda Raker, YANA. Pic: ArchantMelinda Raker, YANA. Pic: Archant

Anthony Hagen came close to taking his own life seven years ago - to the point of leaving instructions in the event of his body being found.

Suddenly, at the last moment, something came over him and he decided against it. "I wanted to live," he said. "I can't say I didn't want to die too but I had a weird moment, an epiphany, when I became very calm and I made a phone call, I think to the mental health charity MIND, and was on the phone to them for two hours."

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Anthony Hagen. Pic: submittedAnthony Hagen. Pic: submitted

After that phone call, Mr Hagen went on to see a doctor and receive help and has turned his life around. He'd been working as an agronomist from home and going sometimes up to four days without seeing anyone. Now he's working as a crop production manager for British Sugar in Bury St Edmunds, getting married in May and he and his fiance have a little daughter. Having suffered from depression all his life, he still battles with what he calls 'the black dog of depression' but now knows what to do when dark feelings overcome him. "I don't know when the black dog is going to turn up; it might be at the end of the day, slowly creeping in, or it might come as a hurricane. Many people see suicide as cowardly but I feel that waking up every morning and lying to yourself and your friends and family, telling everyone that you're ok when you're not, that's just as selfish, it's very hard work, it's like being in a prison.

"But now I have ways of coping, I try and remind myself how fortunate I am, that people love and care for me, and that I am a kind and thoughtful person, I try and be a better person. You have to be kind to yourself, every day try and do something that makes someone else's life better, even in a small way, so recognise that you do good. Hold the door open for someone or let someone pull out in a car if they look like they're in a rush, call a friend and then say to yourself 'well done, that's good work.'

"Be honest with yourself and other people too; it takes a lot to say that you're finding things tough, but by being honest and open, you give someone a chance to understand why you're having a bad day."

The Mind Your Head campaign. Pic: submittedThe Mind Your Head campaign. Pic: submitted

Mr Hagen believes the overall safety on farms could be improved as a result. "I think there would be fewer accidents on farms and more people could go home safe and sound because safety on farms is affected by people's mental wellbeing and if someone is feeling distracted or battling anxiety, it can have an effect.

"But what is important is the message that it's ok not to be ok, we need to talk about it more, need to communicate even if it's just a text to someone."

Mr Hagen's comments come as new figures show farming continues to have the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK, while 85% of young farmers believe there is a definite link between mental health and the overall safety of farms. In 2018 there were 83 suicides amongst people working in agricultural and related trades in England and Wales.

As a result of these findings, the Farm Safety Foundation charity has launched its third annual 'Yellow Wellies' Mind your Head campagin this week. It states the farming industry faces many stress factors, putting them at greater risk of mental ill health. These include extended amounts of time working in isolation, a blurring between work and home life and financial uncertainty as a result of Brexit, changing consumer habits, and the climate crisis.

Yana's 7 tractor facts aimed at saving lives. Pic: YANAYana's 7 tractor facts aimed at saving lives. Pic: YANA

Melinda Raker, patron of YANA, You are Not Alone, a Norfolk charity which helps those in farming affected by depression and stress, said: "It is no surprise that young farmers believe there is a direct correlation between poor mental health and farm safety - it is an exacting, highly mechanised industry and we need everyone to feel mentally and physically fit enough to cope with the many challenges, so many of which are beyond the control of farming communities.

"The suicide statistics are a real concern which is why YANA launched the 'Seven Tractor Facts to Save a Life' suicide prevention campaign last year. We are sharing this with Yellow Wellies because, by working together, encouraging others to be aware of signs, symptoms and support available, we desperately hope we can save lives."

You can contact YANA by clicking here or by contacting them on the helpline 0300 323 0400.


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