< Asking for help is not a sign of weakness says Nigel Owens MBE
Nigel Owens MBE former International Rugby Union Referee & Beef Farmer
Sponsors CRV

Former Rugby Union referee and beef farmer Nigel Owens spoke at Januarys BCBC conference, kindly sponsored by CRV

It’s important to understand the value of mental health not just for individuals, but families and the wider industry, said former Rugby Union referee and beef farmer Nigel Owens.

In his presentation Nigel described his own spiral into ‘dark dark’ depression in his mid-twenties over struggles to come to terms with his sexuality.

“By the time I was 24 or 25 years of age I was suffering from severe depression and mental health issues. I was starting to have suicidal thoughts that the only way to get out of this darkness I was in, was to end everything.”

One night he left the house with the intention of ending his life. “I'll never forgive myself for what I put my mum and dad through when they thought they were never going to see their only child ever again.” After drinking a large amount of whisky Nigel fell unconscious. “I have no doubt that if that hadn’t happened, I would have pulled the trigger of the gun, because that was the state of my mind at the time.”

A police helicopter found him in a remote area a few miles from his home. Initially they were unsure if they were too late as they could see a shotgun pointing to his chest. “They realised that the heat in my body was gradually getting less, which meant one of two things that I was dying or already gone.”

Nigel was airlifted to hospital and spent time in intensive care before going home. Accepting himself and his sexuality was the biggest challenge of his life, he said.

“Reffing the World Cup between Australia and New Zealand in 2015 – the biggest game in world rugby which only happens once every four years – the pressure of that was huge. But the challenge of that was nothing compared to accepting who I truly was.”

He advised anyone struggling with mental health issues not to delay asking for help. “The sooner you accept that you’re struggling, the better. Go and seek help, it is not a sign of weakness.”

He called on delegates to help create an environment where it was possible for people to speak out about difficulties and to consider the impact of their words on others too: “Never underestimate the influence that each and every one of you will have on people around you. The way you talk about people who are different to you, whether you mean it in jest.”

Retiring from refereeing after 35 years enabled Nigel to fulfil his ‘first dream’ of becoming a farmer. Having spent time helping on a relative’s dairy farm in his youth, he had never lost sight of his ambition to have his own livestock and he now manages his 60 head of pedigree Hereford cattle alongside other work. “Farming won’t make me a millionaire, but it is something I am very passionate about,” he said.

Nigel's presentation is available to view to BCBC members, please contact the secretary for further details on becoming a member and how to gain access to the recent conference presentations.

  • Farming Community Network offers practical and pastoral support to those in the farming community both in-person via its network of regional volunteers and its national helpline and ehelpline. For more information visit https://fcn.org.uk
  • The RABI recently partnered with Kooth to offer emotional support and online counselling to those in the farming community. Visit https://explore.kooth.com/rabi/