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A trove of challenges have impacted the mental health of farmers throughout the country, with Southland hit particularly hard

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Mental health issues have been rising throughout the country, with Southland being hit particularly hard. Photo / 123rf

Financial pressures, flooding, employment issues, and isolation are taking their toll on farmers throughout the country, with numbers spiking especially in the Southland region.

Data from the Rural Support Trust shows the Southern region contributed nearly 40 per cent of all new support cases from August to November 2023, the highest proportion in the country.

A report from Southland Rural Support Trust (SRST) wellness co-ordinator Rachel Nicholson showed the organisation had received 31 cases from August 16 to November 22, including 6 from last years flooding events.

The same time last year, SRST received 16 cases and one for counselling.

Speaking to The Heald, Nicholson said farmers had been facing various challenges in the past year, such as declining sheep and lamb prices, commodity fluctuations, and adverse events like floods.

Combined with government policies that weren’t supportive, things had been tough for farmers, she said.

A ewe and her lamb seek higher ground during flooding on Westwood Farm in Western Southland last year. Photo / Anita Erskine
A ewe and her lamb seek higher ground during flooding on Westwood Farm in Western Southland last year. Photo / Anita Erskine

“It’s getting really hard… With farmers, they’re busy enough trying to make money and work hard, and then they’ll get an adverse weather event or another thing and it just sort of adds up and compiles until they’re unable to cope.”

In September last year, strong wind followed by heavy rain hammered the South, causing flooding, killing sheep and cattle and closing roads.

Nicholson said her statistics showed there was a particular rise in mental support cases with young men in the 20-40 age bracket, largely over lambing and calving, with isolation playing a major factor.

“A lot of those guys come to Southland from Northland or wherever, and isolation is huge. They come out, and then they don’t know how to actually look after themselves. They’re not eating correctly, they’re not drinking properly, and then they’re doing big hours. It’s a real concern.”

She said there was a focus at Rural Support Trust in teaching farmers coping skills, with several scheduled workshops throughout the region.

“It’s just working together to build up those skills so that when things get tough, they know how to deal with it, and in a group they’ll get that connection with other men.”

Calving and lambing can be particularly challenging times for farmers due to long hours. Photo / RNZ
Calving and lambing can be particularly challenging times for farmers due to long hours. Photo / RNZ

“We’re losing a lot of those communities, so it’s about trying to get back that community connection, because then people can help one another out.”

It was apparent that many young men were reluctant to seek help or support, with many being referred to by concerned family members and rural stakeholders, she said.

SRST was recently accepted for the National Rural Support Contestable Grant fund to run a pilot for a Live Me Well Health, Wellbeing & Mental Fitness series of three workshops with wellness coach Samantha McBride.

The workshops will provide younger rural men with tips to grow their self-awareness, tools to improve their mental and physical health, and help to build local connections both during and after the events.

Nicholson said if the workshop pilot went well, she hoped the hoped the workshops would continue throughout the country as a way to teach young men resiliency skills to avoid the support service being an “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.”

Rural Support Trust can be contacted on 0800 787 254, and a list of their resources and services can be found on their website.

Ben Tomsett is a Multimedia Journalist for the New Zealand Herald, based in Dunedin.



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