Rural Mental Health

"There is help available – you just have to let others know what's going on."

A young Whanganui region farmer sat in his boat fishing. He asked himself why he should even go home.

Drought had gripped his farm, stock feed was non-existent. Processing space at the freezing works was almost impossible to obtain.

He had no cash reserves to truck the livestock to greener pastures even if he could find them. He had no money and the banks were playing hardball.


The young man had nowhere to turn, or so he thought. He was considering ending it all right there at sea.

When he finally recounted the experience to friend and retired farmer Brian Doughty help was at hand.

"When he told me he had been fishing and wondered why he should even go home I could see that was a cry for help," Doughty said.

Doughty is trained to recognise stress and the possible onset of mental strain. He is chairman of the Ruapehu-Whanganui Rural Support Trust and he and his team deal with similar situations regularly.

"This really happened. It was an actual real case and sadly not that uncommon these days. Thankfully it has ended well as many others do. This young bloke was just a normal Kiwi guy, a farmer and a good keen man, so to front up and tell people he was under severe stress and needed help was foreign to him.

"You have got to understand most people who get to the stage of thinking about self-harm are so consumed by the negative things happening in their world they become blinkered and are unable to see outside the bubble they are in. The typical Kiwi farmer is this type of bloke and I'd venture to say most Kiwi blokes, full stop, are like this – reluctant to express their vulnerability," Doughty said.

An older Whanganui farmer hit by successive 100-year events in the 1990s conceded he very nearly hit a point of no return after severe floods repeatedly smashed the family farm.

The farmer, who did not want to be named, said he nearly lost everything, including his life.


"It's true, you become so consumed by what's happening in front of you that you cannot see the wider picture. There appears to be no way out, physically, mentally and financially. It feels like you've lost control and that somehow you alone are responsible for allowing it to happen – I seriously considered taking my own life.

"Most farmers can't stand the thought of their livestock suffering whether it be during floods, droughts or disease outbreaks and they take full responsibility for their welfare as they do for their own family's mental, and financial wellbeing, but there is help available – you just have to let others know what's going on."

Doughty said he and his rural support team were like an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

"But once a problem is identified we attempt to find them a bed. We are trained to recognise when professional mental health help is needed and organise for it to happen. We also organise the cost of that to be covered through available funds.

"Often it comes down to financial problems, so we try and sit down with them, their accountants, lawyers and banks to see what can be done – it's all about returning dignity to their lives.

"Potential problems are always lurking and we rely on wives, family members, friends, neighbours and workmates to alert us when something appears unusual about an individual. There are times when mental health becomes rampant and of course this Covid-19 pandemic is not helping.

"But even before Covid-19 we were keeping our eyes peeled for signs of stress. At the moment there are at least four major things facing farmers and rural folk that could quite easily cause stress – the clean water issue, biodiversity, drought and now Covid-19," Doughty said.

Despite the weight of the world falling on rural folk's shoulders, Doughty said there was always a way out, always a light at the end of the tunnel.

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.