Taranaki artist Paul Rangiwahia is well known for his creativity, and is just as well known for being a passionate mental health advocate.

The artist and motivational speaker, who was born in Hāwera and now based in New Plymouth, is a strong believer in the importance of talking about mental health.

The belief that getting people talking was half the battle inspired him to create the Mental Warrant of Fitness, a list of things to do to keep your mental health in check, which he then turned into an artwork. It has since been turned into prints and featured on magnets that were included in 400 Operation Blue Santa parcels given out at Christmas last year. Paul donated the original artwork to the city of New Plymouth, and it was then placed on display outside the Puke Ariki library.

Now, he has turned his creative mind to rural mental health.

Advertisement

People in the rural sector are vulnerable when it comes to mental wellbeing, says Paul. He says two things which make depression much more likely are having long-term sources of stress and an insecure future. When both of these factors are put together the chances of depression increases dramatically, he says.

"At the moment farmers and those in the rural sector face an uncertain future as major changes in the industry are on the horizon. Until a healthy middle ground is found between idealism and realism, plenty of challenges will continue."

Working with Rural Trust national board executive, Mike Green, Paul has created a rural specific "Farm WOF" which identifies key messages particularly relevant to the rural community.

One message reads; "the farm tells a story. Sometimes it is a horror show, sometimes a drama, but if there is enough comedy and action it has the potential to be a bestseller."

Another suggests people should take a lesson from the weather. "It pays no attention to criticism."

The artwork is called The Top Six Inches, referring to the fact most of a plant's roots are in the top six inches of soil, he says.

"Farmers thrive when the top six inches of their heads and top soil of their farms are well balanced, full of good nutrients and, therefore healthy and productive."

The Rural trust aims to sell 2000 prints over the next two years which will bring $250,000 into the Rural Trust to help provide important advice and services to the rural sector.

Paul says people buying the print will help a great cause and gain some strong, thoughtful messages themselves from the print.

Advertisement

"New Zealanders are notoriously poor communicators when it comes to matters of emotional health. The aim is to get conversations going as this is our biggest challenge - getting people to talk. We also want to raise the importance of belonging to a community and the importance of connection."

Emotional stress is not unusual, says Paul, nor should it be stigmatised.

"The quicker we can 'normalise' the fact that we all have moments of emotional stress the quicker we can progress to a healthier way of living. And that's good for everyone."