Depression is more than just feeling down or having a bad day; it’s a pervasive slump that can lead to feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and even thoughts of suicide. It’s important to know that depression is a medical issue: people suffering from severe depression don’t just cheer up after a friendly chat, and can’t just snap out of it by adopting a brighter attitude. The complex workings of the human brain are in play, a combination of chemistry and cognition. Depression is a serious health issue that requires dedicated, professional treatment.

Robert Fetsch of Colorado State University and Roger Williams of the University of Wisconsin-Madison have compiled a list of symptoms of depression and suicidal intent. They also included language to use in asking a loved one or a friend about their state of mind, and a step-by-step guide to calling for help…for yourself or someone you care about.

Some of the symptoms can be subtle, like someone taking less pleasure in usual activities, changing their routines, or backing out of social situations. Some can be physical, like headaches, decreased libido, or problems sleeping. Others can be dramatic and disturbing, like an increase in alcohol abuse or an effort to give away possessions.

The condition of children or livestock can also be a clue, note Fetsch and Williams. Children in a stressed, depressed household may act out, or their grades or attendance in school may drop. Livestock may lose condition or show other signs of neglect.

In fact, the French Livestock Institute is developing an Agri-Sentinel Network to train workers in France’s livestock co-op network to recognize signs of neglect that could indicate depression among their members, and help them seek the assistance that could save their lives.

As Fetsch notes in “Out of The Darkness,” the November 2018 cover story of The Furrow, getting help for depression should be a natural solution for farmers, who are accustomed to consulting experts for help on taxes, veterinary or agronomic problems, or today’s complicated electronics systems.

“We get professional help when we can’t figure out the computer in our tractor,” he says. “When my dad and brother have a cow who’s been laboring 12 hours to deliver a calf, they do all they can to assist her to deliver that calf. When they fail, they call a professional: a veterinarian.

“Are you and I not worth more than a mother cow?” Fetsch asks. “When we’ve done all we can, isn’t it time to call a professional?”

Click here for Fetsch’s and Williams’ checklist. Read it. Print it out. Use it to start an important conversation, or just leave it on the kitchen table if you still don’t know where to begin. But if any of these signs sound familiar, don’t delay.

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