Otago Rural Support Trust chairman Gavan Herlihy (left),
co-ordinators Jodelle Leatham and David Mellish, trustee
Richard Burdon and administrator Andrea Ludemann. Photo by
The Otago Rural Support Trust's emphasis is changing.
Traditionally, the work of the trust had been ''the ambulance
at the bottom of the cliff'', mostly during adverse weather
events like floods, snow storms and droughts.
But increasingly, the trust was ''doing more work at the top
of the cliff'', assisting rural families who were under
stress, chairman Gavan Herlihy, of Wanaka, said.
The trust was initially set up as a North Otago initiative,
during the tough climatic times of the 1980s.
When Central Otago experienced major climatic challenges
during the early 1990s, it was decided the successful North
Otago model be extended, and it later grew to be an Otago
initiative. There were now a series of trusts throughout New
The Otago Rural Support Trust has two co-ordinators, Jodelle
Leatham and David Mellish, administrator Andrea Ludemann, and
eight trustees throughout the region who were initially its
''eyes and ears'', Mr Herlihy said.
During adverse weather events, the trust assisted rural
people in getting emergency assistance, or ongoing help.
The trust saw its role as ''quite widespread'' and not just
following adverse events, but assisting rural families
through various challenges.
It was about using the trust's resources and aligning them
more directly with the current and ongoing need of the rural
community, he said.
Its co-ordinators were trained to help find ways to manage
rural challenges, including personal, environmental and
financial, and could assist with referrals to appropriate
In recent times, the trust had also been behind the scenes,
assisting with animal welfare cases brought to the notice of
the Ministry for Primary Industries.
''We believe it's in everybody's interests, especially for
the context of the wider public perception of the farming
sector, such cases are dealt with quickly and hopefully
addressed before they become exposed to national media
coverage,'' he said.
Trustee Richard Burdon, from Lake Hawea, said people often
did not see any options, but a co-ordinator could see them,
present them to them and ''take them down a different path''.
Nationally, Mr Burdon said there were some ''huge issues'',
citing the likes of the kiwifruit vine disease Psa, which had
''wiped out'' people's livelihoods in the North Island.
''We've got to be able to adapt to all sorts of different
issues,'' he said. Mr Mellish urged the rural community to
keep an eye on neighbours. Statistics showed, on average, one
farmer committed suicide every two weeks.
He had been involved with a series of rural mental health
workshops organised by the Southern PHO, called Rural Life:
Keeping the Balance.
Ms Leatham, who lives in Mosgiel, took on the role in
September last year, having seen the position as an extension
of what she was already doing as a social worker with Child,
Youth and Family.
That role gave her insight and knowledge around what was
''out there'' in the way of support and services, or ''what's
not out there'', especially in the rural sector, she said.
Brought up in West Otago, she had a strong affinity and
familiarity with the rural sector. She had seen the impact of
adverse events on farmers, along with how isolated many were
day to day.
Most of the work she had done to date had been talking to
people dealing with stress and depression.
A lot of farmers had no-one ''neutral'' to talk to. Some
families came from overseas or had moved to a new community
and it could be quite difficult, she said.
Support and services were available, but it was a matter of
finding a ''link'' in and that was where the rural support
trusts came in, she said.
When it came to mental health, there was a lot more awareness
about it and also more self-help tools available.
''It could be as simple as logging on to a computer and
having a look,'' she said.
It was important to seek help immediately and those affected
needed to ''make that first step'', she said.