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Mental illness is often referred to as the black dog and Jess will play a pivotal role in the newly launched Will to Live campaign.
Will to Live is a mental health awareness campaign targeting young rural men and women which has been launched following the death of Will Gregory in December last year.
Mr Gregory (20), who was working as a shepherd near Kurow, and was an accomplished rodeo competitor, took his own life.
The campaign has been driven by Miss Perriam, Mr Gregory’s sister, Sam Gregory, and his best friend, Adam Williams.
Jess the dog will be the mascot for a regional Speak Up tour in country pubs next year as the trio endeavour to spread their message in the most accessible way possible for the younger, rural demographic.
Miss Perriam was concerned that counselling was not always easy to access in rural, remote areas and it could take weeks to get appointments. It was often hard to get a day off in the middle of the week during busy periods such as lambing or shearing and often it was not in their culture for young people to ring a helpline, she said.
Now, she acknowledged, she was still struggling but the issue was something that could not wait any longer.
A PledgeMe crowdfunding campaign was launched to cover the expenses of the Speak Up tour and, within just three days, half of the $15,000 target was reached. If the target was exceeded, that would allow more sessions to be rolled out.
When it came to the make-up of the event, Miss Perriam considered how best it would "hit home". While she could introduce a range of older, male speakers and professionals, that was not something they would necessarily relate to. The mantra was "by young people for young people" and she wanted those attending to gain all the tools they needed from both professionals and people who had been through depression.
A Will to Live ambassador from each region would speak at each event so there was an ongoing mentor in the area for anyone wanting to talk. They also wanted to impress upon those attending the power of having gratitude and everyone having their own will to live.
Miss Perriam never had an inkling Mr Gregory had any mental health issues. He loved his job and had "awesome" bosses and colleagues, while rodeo was his "will to live".
She hoped he would be proud of what the trio were doing, despite it all being "still pretty raw" for them.
"We’re doing it for him and doing it for us. We don’t want anyone else to experience this. We’re doing it for all young rural people and their families," she said.
And it was not just immediate family and friends who were affected; there were also flow-on effects. She gave the example of the police officers who attended the sudden death, the wider Kurow community and even the effect on people who did not know him.
She emphasised that speaking up was not for everyone and it was about individuals finding what best worked for them.
Tough as it was dealing with the loss of her boyfriend, Miss Perriam said she felt a new level of motivation in recent days and happiness from the comments and personal messages she had received, reassuring her she was doing the right thing. That was very satisfying.
While Will to Live was never going to bring back Mr Gregory, it was about trying to turn something bad that had happened into something good, she said.
When she first met Mr Gregory, she did not have any dogs to go shepherding in North Canterbury, so he lent her Jess while he went to Canada for the Calgary Stampede.
She "fell in love" with the dog and, while she gave Jess back when he returned, she was thrilled to now have her and Jess would be the mascot for the Speak Up tour.
Speak Up is starting at the Hunterville Huntaway Festival on Saturday (October 27) with an attempt at New Zealand’s largest recorded "bark up" supporting Will to Live.
With an opportunity to raise the issue with more than 200 shepherds, it was going to be chaos but also very effective.
Miss Perriam, who is studying agribusiness and food marketing at Lincoln University, said her dream was to be a mental health educator for people in rural isolated areas.
Need to talk? 1737, free 24/7 phone and text
Healthline: 0800 611-116
Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800 543-354
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508828-865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Samaritans: 0800 726-666
General mental health inquiries: 0800 443-366
The Depression Helpline: 0800111-757
Youthline: 0800 376-633, txt 234 or firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s Up (for 5-to-18-year-olds; 1pm-11pm): 0800 942-8787
Kidsline (aimed at children up to age 14; 4pm-6pm weekdays): 0800 54-37-54 (0800 kidsline)