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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Beware the winter blues

Although the official start date marked by meteorologists isn’t until next week, winter is well and truly beginning to spread her icy fingers across the land.

Light doesn’t break until about 7.30am, and many in Wairarapa will leave home in the dark and not return until after the sun has well and truly set at 5pm.

Some people are fortunate enough to be able to romanticise these colder months, spinning a storybook narrative of crackling fires in the evening, hot chocolates and cosy, hand-knit jumpers with woolly scarves.

But others will find themselves more susceptible to winter lurgies and the mind games that creep in with the dark mornings and accompanying chill.

Seasonal Affective Disorder [SAD] is a common ailment that comes with the colder and darker part of the year and, while it’s more prevalent in countries with fewer sunshine hours, many New Zealanders still report feeling its effect each year.

The symptoms described by New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation include changes in appetite or sleeping patterns, loss of interest in usual activities, decreased energy, and reduced contact with others.

Not to mention the temperature shifts that also bring that seemingly permanent dry throat and blocked nose, and waking up with condensation trickling down the frozen window pane.

In a community like Wairarapa, where many rural workers are operating remotely or for long, isolated periods, regular check-ins and support during this time are crucial to avoid repeating the bleak history of mental health and wellbeing experienced by New Zealand’s rural sector.

In 2019, the Times-Age reported on a Regional Wellbeing Report published by Infometrics, which stated Carterton had the highest level of self-harm hospitalisations in the country.

The report itself also stated that regionally, the highest suicide rates were in rural communities, and the Tararua District had the second highest rate from 2010 – 2015.

Employment blows and pandemic stress were obvious players contributing to the rates of people with poor mental wellbeing going up 27 per cent between 2018 and 2021, according to Stats NZ.

Even so, despite ongoing external stressors like cyclones and flooding, each year it seems we take a few steps forward in terms of mental health support, seen in local support schemes like the Rural Support Trust and national wellbeing programmes like Farmstrong.

Will to Live, another support organisation, has had great success at connecting with rural folk, perhaps because of its origin story, involving founder Elle Perriam losing her partner, a young farmer, to suicide in 2018.

A nationwide tour in 2019 hosted by Will To Live included Wairarapa, where young farmers came together to discuss the importance of speaking up and supporting wellness in farmers, and the organisation has also helped fund subsidised therapy sessions for those needing support.

These mechanisms are undoubtedly having a positive impact on mental health in rural communities, but the conversation is far from over.

As the frost continues to settle for the coming months, check in with those around you and make sure to keep the chill and SAD demons at bay.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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