Stock agent opens up about depression

Palmerston livestock agent Gerard Shea says times are tough in the farming industry and hopes sharing his own story about depression will encourage others to seek help if they too are struggling. Alice Scott reports.

Depression can look different for everyone.

Affable and ever-optimistic Palmerston stock agent Gerard Shea’s mental health "hadn’t been great" but he had always managed to keep himself in check. Nevertheless, his rock bottom finally presented itself and it was the catalyst Mr Shea needed to get help.

"My wife, Fiona, knows just how much I absolutely love to fish for trout and if I catch one, I am usually ecstatic. This day I caught two. I was fishing at a time when they usually wouldn’t be biting which should have given me even more reason to celebrate, but instead I just quietly returned to the caravan and said nothing.

"When Fiona asked if I had any luck I just shrugged and said ‘oh yeah, I got two’ she knew that was totally out of character for me and made the call that I needed to see a doctor."

Farming is a tough business to be in at present and Mr Shea said there was a lot of pressure on everyone in the industry.

"Not just stock agents, but all businesses who deal with farmers at the coalface. It has been a really challenging time.

"It’s no secret that I had a complete meltdown. It all just got too much, and I felt totally burnt out and ready to throw the towel in on the whole job."

Mr Shea gives a lot of credit to his wife and their two adult daughters for their care and support.

"Fiona didn't muck around. I have a lot to thank her for in that respect."

His employer, PGG Wrightson, also gave him time off to recover and surrounded him with support in the form of counselling and workload backup.

"Some amazing colleagues stepped in, took over my phone and ensured everything ticked over as it needed to while I got myself right. They were totally understanding and compassionate. My boss, John Duffy, said, ‘depression isn’t a weakness, it’s an illness’ and that was exactly what I needed to hear at the time."

Now a few months down the track, Mr Shea said he is the best he has felt for a very long time thanks to medication and a change in lifestyle.

"I have realised just how much I had let my work permeate my whole life. I worked nights and weekends, because I didn’t have enough outside interests.

Palmerston livestock agent Gerard Shea hopes sharing his own story will encourage others to seek...
Palmerston livestock agent Gerard Shea hopes sharing his own story will encourage others to seek help if they too are struggling. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
"It’s hard not to talk shop when your friends are also in the same industry, and they start talking markets and prices; all of a sudden you’re back in work mode. It can be really hard to switch off ."

Returning to playing social squash has also been beneficial for Mr Shea.

"Meeting people from different backgrounds and occupations has been really enjoyable. Keeping fit and playing squash has given me a new focus outside of work," he said.

Talking publicly about his own personal account of depression wasn't something Mr Shea thought he would ever want to do but agreed to share his story in the hope it may help others.

"It's just good to normalise this stuff. I was farming in the 1980s and totally understand how relentless it all is. A lot of people suffer alone when there is help out there. There's no shame in saying 'hey, I am actually not OK'."


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