Farmer on going out, giving back and getting help

Sam Owen has had a couple of bouts of depression during his dairy farming career. Photo: RNZ
Sam Owen has had a couple of bouts of depression during his dairy farming career. Photo: RNZ
Waikato sharemilker Sam Owen is talking to farmers about his struggles with mental health in a bid to encourage them to reach out should they need help.

Sam has had a couple of bouts of depression during his dairy farming career and now speaks to Young Farmers and other groups about how he maintains his mental wellbeing.

"If I have to be brutally honest about my journey and it helps one more's been all worth it," he says.

Sam says he has accessed help through his GP and counsellors.

It was through a second counsellor, who had a rural background, that he began to feel he was understood.

"Farmers are really great at handling practical problems; we are really good at looking at a broken post and knowing how to fix it. But when the pressure comes on we find it hard to express how we feel."

Sam says his depression impacted on his productivity. He would get up in the morning and feel like he had done a day's work.

He was disconnected from his family and friends. Eating was just refuelling by grabbing something on the run. He was looking on the negative constantly.

"I still have to work on that...looking at the negative even when things are really good," he says.

Sam say it is important to find a mentor, whether you are a farm assistant or head of Fonterra.

"You need someone to lean on, to defrag, to discuss things with."

He also gets off the farm.

"Sometimes when you are a farmer you seem locked in by the boundary fence. The boundary fence is like a 10 foot high wall."

Taking part in activities unrelated to farming can give a fresh perspective, he says.

He makes sure he eats and sleeps well and he makes lists.

"Writing a list turns the worrying things in my head into something practical.

"They become practical when you can see them in front of you on a piece of paper or a spreadsheet or a computer or even voicing it."

And he watches his diet.

"Not so much eating celery and three square meals of tofu. But this morning I had eggs on toast ...I will make sure I have a rest and a square meal at lunch, then when we come back from football practice I know there is steak and potatoes ready to go.

"You have to keep your fuel levels up. Keep your sleep hours up. As farmers we are shockers at working late into the night to get the fertiliser on or getting up early to meet the truck.

"You need six to seven hours to keep fresh and alert."

A farmer for 21 years, he admits farming wasn't his first choice. Sport was his first love.

"I play golf - badly. Still try to run and play soccer. As well I coach my children's soccer teams.

"Giving back by speaking to Young Farmers or training young people's sport, is just as rewarding as a good day's work, or playing sport myself."

He says he gets a mixed response when he opens up to groups about his mental health.

Some people have the tools in place to cope, he says.

"There are people who are focused but quiet; people who are agreeing with you vocally which I take as they have been on that journey or have started to realise there's a problem.

"With mental illness, you fall into a funk and you think it's just tiredness but it can be a slippery slope heading to a big crash or a big fall."

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

Add a Comment