Marc Gascoigne remembers sitting at the kitchen table on his farm with a to-do list in front on him. He stayed there for 30 minutes staring at his list. He didn't move.
The Cambridge farmer, who has worked in the Waikato since 1992, suffered depression and anxiety six years ago and is now taking proactive steps to protect his mental and physical wellbeing.
"My experience of depression was I just couldn't think straight," he says. "I couldn't make simple decisions. I was so stressed and fatigued that my brain went into fight-or-flight mode. I wasn't coping."
Gascoigne is not alone. An ACC-funded study for Farmstrong shows 58 per cent of recently injured farmers linked their accident to stress associated with farm work. A quarter of them said it was a major factor.
Exhaustion, lack of sleep, the stresses of farming, being isolated from friends and family, and being unable to take a break, all add to the risks that a farmer or farm worker will have an accident, the research shows.
"My brain told my body that something was seriously wrong, and I was under attack, so it just shut down. It was telling me that there was a threat to my life, and it took away all of my decision-making. On the farm that is really dangerous because you have to make little decisions all day, every day."
Gascoigne says when dealing with animals that weigh half a tonne and machinery, the farm is a high-risk environment, particularly if you are not thinking clearly.
He remembers one day when he could have seriously hurt himself. He was herding his cows when one of them bolted from the herd. He took after her on his quad-bike and flipped it on its side.
"It was bloody dangerous," he says. "It was because I was stressed and fatigued, and I made a poor decision. I was bloody lucky. These days I'd just let her go and sit back and have a breather."
He is sharing his story to help others who are in the same situation.
"I would never have talked about my depression six years ago," he says. "I would have been horrified to share my story then, but I realise it's important to tell people what you're going through so they can help." Agriculture is New Zealand's biggest export earner but it's also one of our most high-risk industries.
In 2020, there were 22,796 farm-related injury claims accepted, and they came at a cost of $84 million to help people recover. That is more than 60 farmers getting injured every day.
Farmstrong is a rural wellbeing initiative for farmers and growers to help them "live well to farm well". It encourages farmers to share their stories and to look after themselves as well as they do their pasture and livestock.
These days Gascoigne says he has two priorities for looking after his wellbeing – he exercises every day and he prioritises connecting with people.
"I found that doing some exercise, getting out for a run or a cycle, really helped with my depression and just cleared my head," he says. "A lot of farmers will tell you that they simply don't have time or the energy to do that sort of stuff. But I just found that break gave me so much more energy and it needs to be a priority."
Gascoigne says it is important to have an event to train for, or train with a group of mates so it gives the exercise more meaning and accountability.
He says you get into that sort of frame of mind, dealing with depression, you don't feel like mixing with people.
"You just want to sit at home by yourself. Which is the worst thing that you can do." These days he connects with as many people as he can every day.
"Everyday things like talking to the cashier in the supermarket. They always say 'Hi, how's your day been?' I used to think 'man I don't have time to talk about that with you'.
"Now I really make an effort and that improves my wellbeing and I have a better day. I recommend connecting with as many people as you can to improve your mental wellbeing."
Gascoigne stressed the importance of taking time out, getting off the farm and having a break.
ACC head of workplace safety Virginia Burton-Konia says all farmers need to prioritise their wellbeing because many injuries are preventable.
"Farmers spend their lives growing our food and milk and helping our economy, but they're not great at looking after themselves," says Burton-Konia.
"We are challenging all New Zealanders to have a hmmm. It's important for farmers, to take a moment to think about what they are about to do and think about what could go wrong to prevent injury."
• For more information on Farmstrong visit: https://farmstrong.co.nz/
• Marc works with the Rural Support Trust - if anyone wants to talk about having depression and anxiety issues he can be contacted through the trust on:
0800 787 254 or email@example.com.
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.