A 20-year-old Lincoln University student is hoping some noisy farm dogs will encourage young rural people to talk about their mental health.

Elle Perriam will attempt New Zealand's largest ever "bark up" at tomorrow's Hunterville Huntaway Festival, where a record number of huntaway dogs will bark at once to symbolise "speaking up".

Rural mental health is an issue close to Perriam's heart as she lost her boyfriend, North Otago high country shepherd, Will Gregory, to suicide in December last year.

Along with Will's sister, Sam Gregory, and his best friend, Adam Williams, Perriam set up a mental health awareness campaign called "Will to Live" in Gregory's memory.


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"We recognised that there wasn't any mental health services for this demographic, so myself, Sam and Adam put our heads together and thought we'd come up with a campaign that brings accessible services to isolated areas."

"Especially in small towns where you can't really see someone, [and] a counsellor or a doctor [is] four hours away when you're stuck up a valley."

Perriam inherited Gregory's black huntaway Jess, who will play a pivotal role in the Will to Live campaign and a Speak Up tour taking place in country pubs next year.

Read more: Will to Live: Mental health drive launched in memory of young shepherd

Jess is a fitting mascot says Perriam as the Black Dog is "a symbol for depression." She hopes when Jess "speaks up" during the pub tour, it will help others start talking.

Perriam reveals The Speak Up tour has reached the $15k crowdfunded target to host ten events nationwide. She hopes the meetings will let people know they can talk to someone in their town about their experiences.

"It's a place for everyone to come out of their stations for the night and sit around the table and have casual yarns," says Perriam. There will also be talks from mental health professionals and locals who have had experience with depression.

"It's helping people find what their will to live is ... they can learn to pick themselves up by themselves and have their own tools - because everyone's got their own will to live."


Where to get help:
Rural Support Trust: 0800 787 254
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.