Focus on rural mental health

Plunging dairy prices will continue to put enormous pressures on the mental well-being of some sectors of the farming community, and the head of Rural Women NZ says farmers must understand when they need help.

Wendy McGowan was guest at the Lower North Island regional conference held in Wanganui at the weekend, an event organised by the Fordell-Mangamahu branch of the organisation.

Mrs McGowan said Rural Women, along with other farm lobby groups, was paying close attention to the problem of depression in the industry and for good reason.

"The continued downward spiral in dairy prices can have pretty far-reaching effects within the rural community as farmers put away their chequebooks.

"The ability to meet their commitments means it's going to be a very difficult time for them,'' she said.

"In some ways it's a matter of teaching women to recognise signs of depression so they can get the help that's needed for their menfolk.

"And you've got to remember we've got a lot of women who farm in the their own right, too, so it's not just an issue for men."

Liz Hancock, the national councillor for this region, said health was one of several topics on the conference agenda.

"As an organisation, we're about making our communities resilient and strong. We try to cover those areas in our speakers and the workshops we run," Ms Hancock said.

Things the urban communities took for granted, such as transport, internet and cellphone services, were not always available to the rural areas and they were the things Rural Women were advocating for.

Mrs McGowan said what the organisation particularly fought for at a parliamentary level was all about access to services.

"Rural wants the same access to services as urban communities have. The matter of local authorities rates is especially topical. In my area [she lives near Rotorua] we've learnt that one dairy farmer's rates are going to rise by 75 percent and he already pays $17,000 a year. Who can afford those sorts of increases?"

Rural Women NZ celebrates its 90th birthday this year but has had several different titles in that time.

It started in 1925 as Women's Division Farmers Union, then was renamed Women's Division of Federated Farmers before the "of" was dropped and it became Women's Division Federated Farmers before taking on its present title.

- By John Maslin of the Wanganui Chronicle

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