8 June 2001

Watch for the warning signs of depression

ARE YOU experiencing loss of appetite, sleeping difficulties or a lack of energy? Have you become more irritable? Need to drink more alcohol?

Such symptoms of stress, while a natural response to the foot-and-mouth crisis, could develop into a serious illnesses – such as depression – if they persist, warns the Farmers Advice and Support Team (FAST).

"It may not just be your liberty and livelihood currently at risk – it may also be your mental health, says Jane Anne Smart, one of the four registered community mental health nurses making up FAST.

The group, which is part of an NHS Trust, offers free and confidential help to farmers and country people with such problems in mid and north Devon, says Jane Anne.

"Depression can come on quickly or it may take many months to occur. It chooses its victims indiscriminately. You cannot fight it or bully yourself out of it. Depression is an illness but, like a lot of illnesses, it can be treated and people can make a full recovery.

"Depression is not a sign of weakness but it can be a downward spiral that is extremely hard to pull out of if you do not seek professional help."

Other warning signs, she adds, include feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, aches and pains and concentration difficulties.

To contact FAST, ring 07968 388706 (office hours).