Destigmatising mental health

Last month Sandra Faulkner saw first-hand the cataclysmic effect suicide has on family, friends and the wider community when a member of her extended family took his life.
Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The ripples, she says, go way beyond the devastated immediate family and the Gisborne sheep and beef is calling for a change in the way the farming sector talks about mental health – in particular the words that are used.

Farmers, she says, deal with the tangible, so talking about brain health removes a lot of the stigma and emotion associated with the term mental health.

The brain is a body part – just like the heart or prostate gland and when it is not working as it should, it requires care and support and medical intervention.

“No-one would expect to walk around on a broken leg for two months and expect it to get better and the same applies to the brain.”

“You can support it and let it get strong again – but expect that it will occasionally get niggly when the weather changes.”

While the changing the way brain health is talked about may help remove some of the stigma associated with the term mental health, Sandra says the words are less important than the discussion.

We need to make it ok to talk about anxiety, depression and other diseases affecting the brain.

“It’s not a threat to anyone’s dignity, pride or masculinity any more than a broken leg or diseased heart is.”

Men, in particular, tend to suffer in silence, whereas women are more natural talkers and will reach out to their network when they are feeling down.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s (B+LNZ) CEO Sam McIvor says while anxiety or depression affects one in five New Zealanders, farmers can be more vulnerable as they are often working in isolation.

“Their businesses can be affected by factors outside of their control, such as climate, market fluctuations or even regulatory changes that create uncertainty or undermine the viability of their business.”

He says B+LNZ have partnered with – or supported – a number of initiatives that support farmers during times of stress and provide resources to help farmers stay fit and healthy- physically and mentally.

The Rural Support Trust (RST), which has networks throughout the country, is operated by farmers and rural professionals.  The RST offers free, confidential support for farmers who are experiencing adversity or finding life tough and will connect farmers with a range of professionals to ensure they get the help they need from financial and medical advice through to counselling services.

Farmstrong is an initiative designed to give farmers the skills and resources they need to live well, farm well and get the most out of life. The Farmstrong website includes a range of subjects from healthy thinking to sleeping well, eating well and keeping fit.

B+LNZ does have resources available on its website with advice on dealing with adverse events, such as earthquakes and floods as well a fact sheet about managing financial and mental wellbeing.

More Information

For more information or support, phone Rural Support Trust on 0800 787 254

Beef+ Lamb New Zealand health and well-being resources: