Talking key on young farmer's road home

Mr Railton says switching off the phone and enjoying real life is important. Photos: Supplied
Mr Railton says switching off the phone and enjoying real life is important. Photos: Supplied
The pressures of the modern world are taking their toll on the mental state of the country’s young people. Alice Scott talks to a young rural lad who has been through it and come out the other side.

Ticking along in his tractor at 11kmh, Harry Railton is drilling the last of the 100ha of oats for the next season, the ryecorn paddocks are up next and then that will be him for the season, as far as tractor work goes.

Harry Railton joined the "Will to Live Speak Up'' tour to share his own mental health journey and help others get through.
Harry Railton joined the "Will to Live Speak Up'' tour to share his own mental health journey and help others get through.
We establish that his location, in Tekapo, is somewhat outside the Southern Rural Life delivery zone, but, he agrees, it doesn't matter; battling one's own inner demons is a universal issue and one that is becoming more important to talk about as the modern world becomes just too much to take for some.

Mr Railton was part of a committee of men and women to join Elle Perriam on her ''Will to Live, Speak Up'' tour around rural New Zealand over the recent winter months. After the loss of her boyfriend to suicide a couple years earlier, Miss Perriam saw a need to help young rural lads who were not likely to get off the farm and seek the assistance they needed for their own mental health. She worked in with community groups at various locations and created an event where young and old came together to share their stories.

Mr Railton was one of those to join the tour and talk about his own journey.

''For sure, it was just an amazing experience. Talking and sharing with others has quite an amazing effect,'' he said.

His mental health journey started in his teenage years.

''I came from a privileged background and went to a good boarding school in Christchurch. It was there that I guess you would call it anxiety or an obsessive disorder crept in. I would do totally bizarre things. For example, I couldn't go and play a game of rugby without making sure all my shoes were lined up in perfect order, just in case I got injured and didn't come back. It's totally nuts when I think back now. But at the time it was very real. It took up a lot of mental energy,'' he said.

A career in farming has been a step in the right direction for Mr Railton.
A career in farming has been a step in the right direction for Mr Railton.
After high school, Mr Railton decided to head for university.

''I don't know why, but I didn't want to conform to the norm and follow the crowds that go to Lincoln. Instead, I went against the grain and enrolled myself at the University of Canterbury and studied law and geology. It was a silly move; I should have gone to Lincoln, as I was so rural inclined.

''I got pretty fat at uni and that compounded things. I felt a lot of pressure to fit in and I just wasn't happy with my self-image. I got injured in rugby, which buggered me up a fair bit. I realise now I had a lot of depression and anxiety.''

Midway through his studies, Mr Railton decided university life was not for him and headed off for Australia to work the harvest season in a tractor. Not long after arriving, he received a call from his parents that his cousin had died. It wasn't until arriving home for the funeral he learned it had been suicide. ''Suicide was never something that I had given much time or thought to; you hear about it through the media but it had never impacted me in my own little world.''

His cousin's death was followed by a handful of personal upsets, one after the other, and it left Mr Railton reeling for years.

''In hindsight, I was very much depressed. I was in a dark place.''

He had always been keen on farming and started a shepherding job in the Mackenzie district.

''I did three years there and that was the real turning point for me.''

It was here that he met Jessica (Jet) Campbell and things began to change for the better.

''Jet took me to the doctor the odd time but I wouldn't accept the answer was in a little white pill. I thought I could push through and just bear the brunt of it.

''The owners became like a second set of parents to me. Finally, Jet dragged me by the scruff of the neck back to the doctor and this time I accepted the medication. For some, I get that it doesn't do the trick, but for me it was a real turning point.''

Now aged 27 and in a farm management position, Mr Railton agrees he has grown up a lot.

''When I started my first farming job I turned up in my 1992 Toyota Corona and I didn't fit in, so after the first week I went and bought a flash new ute. As well as everything else, I had also added a whole lot of financial pressure on myself; the anxiety levels were just crazy.''

While on tour with Will to Live, he found his story was quite a common one.

''There doesn't have to be huge tragedy or event to cause depression. Sometimes the everyday struggles add up and we don't think we need help or we don't know how to get it.

''Talking at the Speak Up tour was a great way to reflect and be relatable to people who were my age.''

Mr Railton sees today's modern world doing nothing but adding to the pressures on young people.

''You only need to look on social media and see young guys posting photos with their jet-boats or flash alloy dog boxes. It's just not sustainable to live up to that.''

Mr Railton credits partner Jet with his recovery.

''She's been instrumental in helping me get better. We've had our hard times where I would just self-sabotage. Communication is key; with your boss, with your partner, with your parents. We all get crap days, and that's fine because that's just all they are. You acknowledge them and you move on,'' he said.

-By Alice Scott

-Do you have your own journey you are willing to share? Once a month Southern Rural Life will feature a story about getting through those tough times. Email

Where to get help

Rural Support Trust: 0800787-254
Healthline: 0800611-116
Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800543-354
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508828-865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Samaritans: 0800726-666
Alcohol Drug Helpline: 0800787-797
General mental health inquiries: 080044-33-66
The Depression Helpline: 0800111-757

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