Speak Up experience transforming

Elle Perriam and her black huntaway, Jess. Photo: Supplied
Elle Perriam and her black huntaway, Jess. Photo: Supplied
If she was to look back at the person she was nearly two years ago, Elle Perriam reckons she would not recognise herself.

Miss Perriam is the very public face of rural mental health awareness campaign Will to Live, which was launched following the death of her boyfriend, Will Gregory, in December 2017.

Speaking during a Speak Up tour - events were held in Balclutha, Winton and Hawea last week and more were planned for Kurow on August 15 and Middlemarch on August 16 - she said it was rewarding and motivating.

Following the death of Mr Gregory (20), a North Otago shepherd, she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, she said.

"I was a pretty big mess, to be honest."

But immersing herself in the highly successful Will to Live campaign had brought the light back into her life, she said.

She was also very passionate about talking about stress now - she had learned a lot about it, how to manage it and understood it a lot better.

The Speak Up tour aimed to break the silence on what she saw as the biggest issue facing rural New Zealand - wellbeing - in the most accessible way possible for younger rural people.

About 150 people had been attending each event and the response had been "overwhelming". People had not only been willing to attend but were also very attentive, listening to the speakers and "just really taking it all in", Miss Perriam said.

She believed the informal nature of the events had been a key factor in their success.

There was so much more awareness of mental health these days as people realised it was fundamental to being happy, and just as important as physical health, she said.

That was not the case a decade ago but now it was at the forefront of people's lives.

There was no difficulty finding inspiring speakers as people were so passionate about the subject they were always keen to help out.

In each region, Will to Live found a local farmer to speak to their community and share their story, to provide that local connection.

Will to Live was probably the most overwhelming yet rewarding thing she had ever done, she said.

When the campaign started, she did not know what the response would be but she knew that was a risk she had to take.

She was a young shepherd "telling people about rural health" but she had to push past that.

The response from farmers and industry groups, and the donations and sponsorship that had allowed the Speak Up tour to cover the country, had been "absolutely awesome".

She was proud Will to Live was a charity that did not get government funding; instead it was funded by farming groups and industry and rural folk.

She believed rural New Zealand had been "left in the lurch" with nothing in the Government's latest Wellbeing Budget specifically going to rural communities. It was up to farmers to "do it ourselves".

At present she was preparing for the next phase of Will to Live; money raised from charity auctions at Speak Up events was being put towards workshops next year.

Those events would focus on leadership in the workplace, resilience and nutritional aspects.

Now based on Banks Peninsula and doing some casual shepherding, mostly in North Canterbury, she hoped Mr Gregory would have been proud of what Will to Live was doing.

As for Will to Live's mascot - Mr Gregory's black huntaway Jess whom Miss Perriam inherited - she was also taking it all in her stride.

Jess had gained so much confidence since making a television appearance on TV3's The Project and "knows the drill".

At the start of each Speak Up event, Jess broke a moment's silence by erupting in barks, followed by other dogs brought by those attending then barking in unison.

That was to illustrate the ripple effect of having one black dog - "the black dog" was a metaphor for depression - speaking up.



"She believed rural New Zealand had been "left in the lurch" with nothing in the Government's latest Wellbeing Budget specifically going to rural communities. "
That would be right !!!
They only invest in the non-productive and their ideology correct sectors.
That's why the economy is trending down once again.