Rural mental health course aims to spread awareness

Southern PHO health promotion and project co-ordinator Katie Jahnke has developed a new course, ''Rural Life: Keeping the Balance'', to address mental health issues in the rural sector, which is being facilitated by Southland Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Lindsay Wright, of Wendonside.   The programme uses videos featuring John Kirwan. Photo by Yvonne O'Hara
Southern PHO health promotion and project co-ordinator Katie Jahnke has developed a new course, ''Rural Life: Keeping the Balance'', to address mental health issues in the rural sector, which is being facilitated by Southland Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Lindsay Wright, of Wendonside. The programme uses videos featuring John Kirwan. Photo by Yvonne O'Hara

Talking about mental health has always been difficult, especially for farmers.

However, it has just got a little bit easier with the introduction of ''Rural Life: Keeping the Balance'', a new course put together by Southern Primary Health Organisation health promotion and project co-ordinator Katie Jahnke and her team.

Ms Jahnke, with support from Federated Farmers and the Otago and Southland Rural Support Trusts, trialled the course during two pilot workshops, including one in Mosgiel two weeks ago.

The course will be given its first public outing at the Federated Farmers building in Invercargill tomorrow, with a second course to be held in Balclutha on July 31 and another in Tuatapere on August 5.

The two-hour course, which includes group discussions, and videos from the www.depression.org.nz website starring John Kirwan, is facilitated by Southland Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Lindsay Wright, who, as a former farmer, has had first-hand experience dealing with depression.

He said the resource was developed by Ms Jahnke to help farmers and other people in the rural sector to gain an awareness of mental health and stress-related issues, address the stigma attached to mental illnesses and learn how to initiate a conversation about the subject, how to listen and offer help if they were concerned about someone.

''We as rural people need to have our radar out and we need to ask how things are going,'' Mr Wright said.

Farmers generally were perceived as ''tough nuts'', he said.

''The hardest thing [for many farmers] to do is to ask for help for the first time.

''They need to learn to say `Help' before they get to a bad situation and overcome the stigma that goes with mental illness.''

The course examines the symptoms of common mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression and substance abuse or addiction, as well as warning signs that someone is using drugs, and where to go for help.

He also outlined how to recognise if someone was considering suicide.

''Asking someone if they were thinking of suicide did not increase their risk of attempting it and it might just save their life.''

Many people felt uncomfortable about discussing mental health, he said.

''We need to treat someone the way we ourselves would wish to be treated.''

Often, when trust members visited a farmer who might be in need of help, two members would go: one to talk to the farmer and one to observe.

''Ask the farmer how things are going and watch the wife's reaction.''

There were about 500 suicides a year in New Zealand, of whom 25 were farmers, he said.

''That is one rural person every two weeks,'' Mr Wright said.

He said 46.6% of all New Zealanders were predicted to have a mental health disorder at some time in their lives, with 39.5% having already done so and 20.7% having had a disorder in the past 12 months.

Mr Wright and the PHO are offering to hold the two-hour course for groups and organisations that consider it would be of benefit to their members.

yvonne.ohara@alliedpress.co.nz