Stories shared at mental health day

Pup Chamberlain (left), of Lives Worth Living, with dairy farmer Jason Herrick during the rural...
Pup Chamberlain (left), of Lives Worth Living, with dairy farmer Jason Herrick during the rural services support day in Ashburton. PHOTO: TONI WILLIAMS
Dairy farmer Jason Herrick showed his support for rural mental health when he spoke about his 2018 turmoil battling anxiety on farm in Southland, at a recent rural services support day in Ashburton.

Support for rural mental health was under the spotlight at the event, hosted by wellness advocate Craig Wiggins.

It was attended by counsellors, health advocates and practitioners from organisations and agencies who fronted the event with tools, techniques and advice for rural service providers and farmers.

Guest speakers Matt Chisholm and Mr Herrick shared their personal mental health stories.

“You’re all good buggers for turning up,” Mr Wiggins told the 150 attendees.

The session was the beginning of a two-way conversation between people servicing the rural industry staff and health professionals around what was happening on farm.

Mr Wiggins had been approached by people who worked in the rural sector who were concerned about farmers in the community and did not know how to help.

The session, at the Ashburton Racecourse, was organised by Farming Families and Rural Support Trust Mid Canterbury.

It was for anyone servicing the rural industry, including business owners and farmers from around the district who, through their work or on-farm dealings, were connecting with farmers at the coalface.

Mr Herrick, a Lumsden sharefarmer who has spent the past 24 years in the industry, many of those in Mid Canterbury, was literally talked down off a cliff after months of constant heavy rainfall and the resulting boggy conditions and unhappy stock tilted his mental wellbeing.

He worked hard, put in long hours and did not consider mental health or burn out.

But it was a constant pressure cooker and one day, when two motorbikes got stuck in the mud, then the tractor, he found himself crying in the cow shed.

And when more rain fell and he was thinking of public perception about his farm conditions, he couldn’t snap out of it and, after an argument with his wife, believed there was only one way out.

He was found by a policeman sent by his wife and tracked through GPS from his phone.

He was lucky and got the help he needed, but still regrets the mental anguish his wife and children suffered.

But out of his darkness came a light. He found he had a lot of support he was unaware of, and he was humbled by it.

He co-founded Ag Proud NZ with other farmers to help farmers connect and share positive stories of the agricultural industry in social settings such as a barbecue, or at wellness seminars, meeting people from urban backgrounds.

And he learned it was OK to talk about his feelings, that work is not the be all and end all and asking for help is OK.

The following year he was ready for the rainfall which hit Southland.

He shared his experience in Matt Chisholm’s documentary Man Enough and has become a strong advocate of mental wellbeing in the rural sector, which has included lobbying the Government for help to fill a gap of 4000 staff in the dairy industry alone, not to mention health, teachers and aged care sector, he said.

Television presenter Matt Chisholm has spoken publicly about his mental health battles in recent months stemming back to unresolved issues and anxiety being masked by alcohol.

“Aiming for perfection is hard. It’s unachievable and will leave you feeling you have nothing left to give,” he said.

Booze gave him the freedom to not be perfect.

He shared his entertaining and deeply personal story with the audience, stemming from his youthful alcohol fuelled hijinks underlined by depression and anxiety.

He went on to self-diagnose his own depression back in his university days after picking up a pamphlet on the subject, but rather than deal with it — and the stigma — he opted to "harden up" just as any Southern Man was raised to do.

He quickly fell back into alcohol-fuelled habits where he would fall off the wagon and regret it.

He shared his low points, the loss of friends to suicide, such as fellow presenter Greg Boyed, and

his high points, such as meeting his wife Ellen, and their subsequent children, and finally breaking away and moving from Auckland "back home" to Central Otago.

Ten years sober and happier than he has been for a long time, he has now learnt he cannot stop negative thoughts but he can decide how long they stay.

He has read more, learned about himself and mindfulness and living now.

But mostly he has learnt “it’s OK not to be OK” and to talk to mates, loved ones and colleagues, ask them how their day is going, then ask them again.

“Not being OK is surprisingly normal,” he said.

Of the 150 people in the room, statistically there were about 30 people in the room struggling right now, he said.

"This stuff is real, this stuff is serious," he said.

Where to get help

Rural Support Trust 0800 787-254
Healthline 0800 611-116
Counsellor service phone or text 1737
Lifeline Aotearoa 0800 543-354
Alcohol Drug Helpline 0800 787-797

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