Rural Mental Health

Comment: A recent personal tragedy has made The Country host Jamie Mackay reconsider his stance on mental health.

I'm ashamed to admit it, especially as there is a history of mental illness in my own family, but until relatively recently I was a bit blasé about mental health.

Back when my grandmother was a young mother under considerable stress raising six kids, she had what was at that time called 'a breakdown'. She was sent off to a mental institution (as they were known then) three hour's drive away.

We were often packed into the car when my father went to visit her, but we were never able to see her. She lived until I was 16 years of age, but I never met her. As a family we never talked about her, other than to acknowledge that she was institutionalised.


I was raised on the farm with a 'harden up' attitude perpetuated by my father and uncle; mainly, I guess, because they had to do the same, growing up without their mother. Feelings were something you had but never talked about, for fear of being seen as weak.

As a young farmer myself, and a mad-keen rugby player, I could not comprehend when an All Black of a similar generation to me, John Kirwan, 'came out' and declared he suffered from depression.

The Country host, Jamie Mackay. Photo / Supplied
The Country host, Jamie Mackay. Photo / Supplied

What on earth did he have to be depressed about? Surely a man who had everything, was at the top of his game, had nothing to be down about? It must just have been a trendy Auckland thing to be depressed, I thought.

At the time, I was a young Southland farmer who had just survived Rogernomics. JK needed to man up and harden up! – that was the general consensus amongst me and my friends.

But history proved me wrong. Kirwan is a national treasure and a man who taught us all that it's okay to not be okay.

Wake-up call

However, the biggest wake-up call I got was two years ago when an old schoolboy friend of 50 years standing committed suicide, just a few days after our annual ritual gathering for duck shooting opening day.

It had always been a wonderful reunion of six lads who had attended a small rural primary school together in Southland half a century earlier. There was a doctor, a lawyer, a Perth miner, a couple of local farmers and a radio bloke. We'd all gone our separate ways in life, but opening weekend was the bond that brought us all together once a year.

I knew my old mate had a couple of issues in his life (don't we all?) but none of us saw it coming. For the past two years I've anguished about what I could have done differently to prevent this needless tragedy.


The answer is probably not much. My friend was too proud to ask his oldest friends for help. God, I wish he had.

If you need help, please ask someone. Don't be too proud. It's not a sign of weakness. It's okay to not be okay.

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.