A farming mum-of-two has dedicated her social media accounts to supporting strangers struggling with their mental health after overcoming her own depression, anxiety and eating disorder.
Jennifer Down recently moved from Cornwall to east Devon with her husband Nathan, a farm manager, and their children, four-year-old Lacey and three-year-old Theo.
Despite being a self-confessed “townie” before meeting Nathan, Jennifer is now a regular on the farmyard, helping out when she can, and soaking up as much agricultural knowledge as possible.
But her main claim to fame in the sector is the creation of a supportive, heart-warming and life-saving online community, which brings aid to those suffering with mental ill health or from a string of dark days.
Jennifer shares uplifting messages and inspirational quotes on social media, as well as taking time out of her busy schedule to reply to a myriad of direct messages and comments every day.
Her commitment is driven by the fact that in the past she’s been in need of this kind of support herself.
Diagnosis: Depression and anxiety
“It was my husband who first recognised something wasn’t right,” Jennifer explains. “He said: ‘I don’t want you to be upset, but you need to see a doctor’. I kept making excuses, but when I thought about it when I was alone at night, I would just cry.”
It was a house move just after their first child Lacey was born that sparked a downward spiral. Having moved to a new area, away from friends and family, husband Nathan was working long hours and Jennifer was struggling with being a first-time mum. This all combined to make her feel isolated and lonely.
“I was petrified of what the doctor would say and whether they would just think I was being silly,” says the 27-year-old.
“I ended up being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, being put on medication and given leaflets and information on local support groups. I still take medication for it now.”
By managing her medication, starting to make new friends and meeting other parents as Lacey began preschool, Jennifer started to feel better.
“Last year I was diagnosed with bulimia. I’m not sure why it started and it annoys me even now not to know,’ she says.
“I was hiding food around the house, the car and my handbag, and after everything I ate I was going to the toilet and being sick. I would come back with bloodshot eyes and a red face.
“My husband thought I was pregnant and I couldn’t lie about that, so I said ‘I’m making myself sick’.”
After discussing her symptoms with the doctor, Jennifer was assessed by the hospital and marked the next level down from high risk.
Though a follow-up appointment was made, she ended up skipping it and continuing to struggle for months.
“I heard my son ask ‘Why is Mummy being sick?’ and that just triggered something in my head,” Jennifer adds.
“It took a while to stop making myself sick, but I managed to do it, with support from my husband and my mum, which I’m really proud of. My children were my inspiration.”
Jennifer’s advice on how you can help
- Don’t give advice if you have no experience because you could make it worse
- If you have been there, and admitted something is wrong and got help, make sure you are in a good place before you open yourself to other’s problems, because you don’t want to make yourself spiral
- If you are in a good place and you know where you can seek help, and you have time, it’s a brilliant thing to do, because you’re giving something back to other people
- Just spending a little bit of time with people really helps, even via a direct message or similar
Winston, a 14-month-old bulldog, has been instrumental in Jennifer’s continuing recovery. He acts as her constant companion when Nathan is at work and the children are at preschool, and is an excellent listener.
“When I’m a bit down, I cuddle and speak to him and even though I’m not getting anything back from him, it really helps.
“Stroking and talking to him always relieves my stress and I feel so much calmer. If he wasn’t there, it would be much harder.”
Jennifer also uses running and workouts at the gym as a way of relieving stress and improving her mood.
Social media success
On her Twitter and Instagram accounts, which have a combined total of more than 10,000 followers, Jennifer posts about healthy food, exercise and positivity, while reaching out to anyone who needs a kind word or sympathetic ear.
“Mental health is such a big thing, but people still find it hard to talk about,” Jennifer says.
“People message me to say thank you for my tweets. Some are a bit lonely and want to chat, others are in a bit of a pickle, they don’t know what to do or who to speak to, but they know they can lean on me.
“Every evening I sit down and reply to each and every one of them. There’s no judgement, because everyone has their own problems. I always say if I don’t get back to you straightaway, I will get back to you as soon as possible.”
Though Jennifer acknowledges she is not a professional, having been through the process herself she feels able to point people who need help in the right direction, whether it be their GP, a support group or charity.
“Farmers are often living far from towns and don’t leave the farm very much. They don’t want to burden people because they still see themselves as the head of the family.
“Men have feelings too and they should be able to express them. My aim is to get people talking about mental health more generally, the problems they have and getting them the help they need.”
Jennifer recently shared her story on the Rearing To Go Twitter account, which highlights the importance of mental wellbeing for farmers and those in the agricultural sector.
Where you can go for support
- Your GP
- Local support groups
- Samaritans – call 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Samaritans Welsh language line – 0808 164 0123
- Rabi Freephone helpline – 0808 281 9490 or email email@example.com
- Farming Community Network helpline – 03000 111 999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – HOPELineUK 0800 068 4141
- Mind-Call on 0300 123 3393, email email@example.com or text 86463
- Rural Support in Northern Ireland – 0800 138 1678
- Scottish Association of Mental Health – 0141 530 1000
- Citizens Advice – find your local office on citizensadvice.org.uk
Farmers Weekly has launched a new campaign to help farmers discover how they can improve their own health, wellbeing and work-life balance.
It’s all about making sure you are in top shape, physically and mentally to run your farm business.
We’ve been joined by business and charities to raise awareness for this campaign. Read about our sponsors below.
Read all of the articles in the Fit2Farm series
Your wellbeing is just as important to your farm’s future as looking after your land, crops and animals. Looking after yourself helps you be more productive and confidently face new challenges.
At Bayer, we have health and nutrition at our core, so we are delighted to support Fit2Farm.
Find out more at cropscience.bayer.co.uk/wellbeing
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That’s why with Isuzu, our pick-ups are strong, durable and built to go the distance, so you can focus on the job in hand.
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Our charity partners
Farming Community Network
The Farming Community Network (FCN) is a voluntary organisation and charity that supports farmers and families within the farming community through difficult times.
FCN’s volunteers provide free, confidential, pastoral and practical support to anyone who seeks help, regardless of whether the issue is personal or business-related.
Helpline: 03000 111999
The helpline is open every day of the year from 7am to 11pm
Farm Safety Foundation
The Farm Safety Foundation is an award-winning charity raising awareness of farm safety among the next generation of farmers.
Through training and campaigns such as Farm Safety Week and Mind Your Head, the Foundation tackles the stigma around risk-taking and poor mental health, ensuring that the next generation of farmers is equipped with specific skills to live well and farm well.
Worshipful Company of Farmers
The complexity, risk and relentless uncertainty within agriculture today take a tremendous toll on all those who work in the industry; never before has resilience been so crucial.
Recognising this we are delighted to support this new initiative to promote good health and wellbeing. It’s a fresh approach and demonstrates that working together we are always stronger.