Comment: The recent Will to Live Tour gets The Country Early Edition host Rowena Duncum thinking about rural mental health.

Just last month I had a bad day. We all get them. I felt like there's so much negativity out there aimed at farmers.

A few hours later though, I got a swift reality check in the form of a passionate and switched-on 21-year-old imploring more than 200 people in Balclutha to remember "how good we are at what we do" and to "be bloody proud to be a farmer".

By the time you read this, the Will to Live charity's 'Speak Up Tour' will have just completed its 13th event, with four still to come later this month.


Spearheaded by Elle Perriam, who has turned her devastation at losing her farmer partner Will to suicide in 2017 into a voice for change, the tour aims to provide ongoing awareness and education to vulnerable young rural New Zealanders who are often isolated from essential mental health services.

We all know the statistics. Rural New Zealand is over-represented in them. We're one and a half times more likely to take our own lives than our urban counterparts. And we all know the messages. Reach out. Talk to others. Seek help.

But for Elle, in the grim clutches of extreme grief, help took the form of an hour's drive to the nearest services. Each way. And this was on top of an eight-week wait list for counselling.

Eight weeks. Not eight hours. Eight. Long. Weeks.

It's not good enough.

So why, when we know there's a genuine issue like this out there, and so much work is being done by so many organisations – like FarmStrong, like the Rural Support Trust, like Will to Live – are we still seeing confrontational and controversial campaigns?

Campaigns like the anti-winter grazing one launched in Wellington by environmentalist Angus Robson.

Like Hans Kriek of SAFE actively advocating for farmers to transition from animal agriculture towards plant-based agriculture – basically an end to dairy, sheep, beef, deer, goat and chicken farming. Generations of farming down the drain.


An end to our ability to earn a living. Not to mention the detrimental effects on New Zealand's economy.

Make no mistake, I'm in no way defending the confronting winter grazing images depicted. The conversation around the viability of and guidelines for this practice absolutely needs to be had. It's the manner with which they go about it I have an issue with.

I'm so tired of counter-intuitive attacks that set out to shame a small number of farmers into better practice.

All farmers feel the effects of these. And we're not dense.

I know I may be preaching to the choir, but my challenge to the Angus Robsons and Hans Krieks of this country is: "Change the record, already."

There's a much more constructive way of going about things and getting the message through.


Let's discuss this like adults and maybe take into consideration some of the messages that people like Elle are having to deliver.

"If we don't look after our people, they can't look after our land and our animals well."

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.
- Rowena Duncum the host of The Country Early Edition. Catch her every weekday from 5am-6am on The Country Early Edition, on Radio Sport and Hokonui, and with Jamie Mackay on The Country every weekday from 12pm on NewstalkZB, Radio Sport and Hokonui.