Rural Mental Health

Comment: By staying virtually connected, farmers can make this period of self-isolation a little bit easier for everyone, writes Federated Farmers Arable Chairperson Karen Williams.

Sticking in our own bubble has never been as important as it is now.

With New Zealand currently at Alert Level 4, everyone except those providing essential services must stay at home and self-isolate.

Some farmers may feel that this is a continuation of their business as usual, because sometimes it can be a couple of days before we see anyone else.

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Even though we must self-isolate, there are some steps that we can take to ensure that we are still virtually connected to the communities around us, be it all the farming families along the shingle road or just your immediate neighbours.

There are numerous examples of video calling technologies out there which we can use to stay connected, including WhatsApp, Facebook messenger and FaceTime.  They're pretty easy to use. WhatsApp and Facebook messenger can be downloaded from the iTunes store or through Google Play.

About 15 years ago I set up a neighbourhood email contact list which includes about 60 residents contact details along our road.

I did this because of a burglary that I thought neighbours should know about and also a desire to make sure our community of farmers and lifestyle block owners stayed connected.

It's worked well, with many social occasions having sprung out of the initiative, and more recently it enabled the kick-start of our Community Catchment Group. Little did I know however that this email network would form the basis of our community connections during a pandemic!

Over last weekend I used the email list to confirm everyone's mobile phone numbers and we established a WhatsApp group.

A WhatsApp group can be really useful if you don't have access to reliable internet services. Even the most technologically inept have joined the group, and I can tell from their comments on the chat, they are feeling pretty chuffed with themselves.

Since establishing this chat, the kind offers and gestures have been heart-warming.

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Neighbours have been offering to get groceries, farm supplies and prescriptions for others, particularly those who were already self-isolating from recent overseas travel and others with compromised immunity.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

This approach of working together also restricts the number of trips that anyone and everyone takes into town which of course reduces the risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19.

We have recently started a family Facebook messenger group. Last night we did a group video call to make sure everyone was coping. It was also great to see and hear everyone although I think we may need to appoint a chairperson to control the everyone talking at once challenge!

Access to video calling over these platforms is obviously predicated on reasonable access to the internet, which can be problematic in rural areas.

By staying virtually connected, we can make this period of self-isolation a little bit easier for everyone, particularly those people who live alone or need a little extra care.

And if technology fails us, don't forget the faithful old landline, for those of us who have retained it!