Elle Perriam and huntaway Jess from the Will to Live Foundation. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Black huntaway Jess is an apt ambassador for the mental health issues plaguing New Zealand’s rural community — depression.
Jess’ owner, a North Otago farm worker named Will, took his life in 2017, spurring his partner Elle Perriam to start the ‘Will to Live’ campaign and get other young farmers talking about mental health.
Last year she started raising funds to lead the a 16-stop 2019 ‘Speak Up Tour’ around the country, aimed at increasing mental health awareness campaign among young rural people, especially men.
The tour kicked off at Gladstone last Wednesday, with more than 130 farmers and 30 huntaways turning up to share their support.
Attendees also took part in the ‘bark up’ event, a moment of silence for those that have lost the battle against depression, followed by a cacophony of farming dogs barking in unison.
Moving on to Pongaroa, the Puketoi rugby team moved their usual practice night to ensure players were able to attend the event which saw 90 people packed into the Pongaroa Hotel.
Several farmers made impromptu speeches about their own experiences with depression at each of the events.
Perriam organised the event to get people talking about their mental health.
“I want people to know that they are a lot more relatable than people think. You are not alone and not the only one,” she said.
While an issue that affects people of all ages, she recognised that there were pressures on young people and that they might not have the tools or confidence to respond.
“There’s a lot of pressures on young farmers around self-esteem and working to prove themselves,” she said.
“They run themselves into the ground doing it.”
Fatigue was also a big issue for those working on farms, she said.
Many of those starting out are expected to have the necessary skills and experiences already – including good working dogs and good stock sense.
She advocated for more established farmers to offer on-farm training opportunities.
The message at both events really seemed to resonate with those in attendance said Wairarapa Young Farmers president Ashley Greer.
“Many of them have been through something like that themselves.”
Greer praised Perriam for calling on older farmers to be more “approachable” and echoed concerns that too much was asked of those young workers.
It was especially hard for those from non-farming backgrounds.
“You need to have at least two years’ experience to get a job. There need to be more farmers willing to forgo experience over the right attitude.
“Skills are teachable, attitude isn’t,” she said.
Greer appreciated that each of the speakers highlighted the different approaches to improving mental health and dealing with depression.
Perriam spoke alongside sisters Kate and Sarah who offered different approaches to treating depression but emphasised getting the basics right — eating properly and getting enough sleep.
Sarah Donaldson, a clinical psychologist from the East Coast Rural Support Trust, also spoke at the event.
She was impressed by the campaign’s ability to connect with the younger generations in ways few others had done before.
“We were really impressed with the young people turn-out at both events.”
Older generations were becoming more open to discussions around depression too, she said.
“It helps take away the stigma for people.”
Her message for those who were unable to attend was to learn from others who have faced challenges.
“When they’ve been brave enough to seek some other support from their community, that’s been crucial for their recovery and for them feeling well again,” she said.
The events raised more than $13,000 through auctions of goods donated by local businesses – which the organisers expressed their great gratitude for.
The money raised help fund Perriam’s tour next year, focusing on improving the education of farm managers and owners on the wellbeing of their employees.
Sarah Donaldson will also speak at the next meeting of South Wairarapa Young Farmers meeting at the Tin Hut in Featherston on Monday night from 6.30pm.
Where to get help
These 24/7 free phones are operated by trained counsellors who can help you talk through problems and identify ways of coping.
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 [Available 24/7]
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 [0508 Tautoko] [Available 24/7]
Youthline: 0800 376 633 Need To Talk? Free Call Or Text 1737 [Available 24/7]
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 [Available 24/7]
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 [1pm to 11pm]
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 [Available 24/7]
Samaritans: 0800 726 666
Government text line: 1737