In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, the Clutha Leader takes a dive into what taking care of mental health involves in a rural and farming context. Jack Conroy reports.
Proactive daily techniques are the best way to maintain good mental health, Farmstrong spokesman Gerard Vaughan says.
Farmstrong is a nationwide wellbeing programme for the rural community.
Mr Vaughan said the focus of the programme, which began in 2014, was to provide practical, daily techniques and solutions to farmers to protect their physical and mental health.
“You can wait until things get so bad that you end up with complex individual problems, and you need one-on-one intensive help,” Mr Vaughan said.
“Or you can put in place simple habits that stop you getting to that point.”
When Farmstrong conducted its foundational research, it found one of the biggest stresses was not being able to take any time off.
“It’s a big challenge in the owner›operator role to be able to do that . . .but we don’t have an inexhaustible supply of just being able to work.’’
Failing to take breaks not only had negative mental health consequences, but also affected productivity, Mr Vaughan said.
“It’s actually counterproductive. You’re not as efficient.”
A practical strategy around this conundrum was to shift your mindset from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
“A common fixed mindset is ‘when I’m away, something always goes wrong. So I always need to be around’.’’
“But a growth mindset would be ‘things always go wrong in the farming business, but I need time off to be at my best. What systems can I put in place to minimise the chance or impact of something going wrong?’”
Mr Vaughan likened some of the techniques taught by Farmstrong to “small daily investments into a wellbeing bank account.”
Some of these included having a strong social network, keeping physically fit, giving to other people, and developing the ability to live in the present.
“We had one farmer, a young shepherd starting out on a rural isolated block. And he rang two of his mates every day, to keep in contact and just have a chat.
Another took time to appreciate the sound of the bellbirds he could hear when he went out to shift his fences, and found that took his mind off his financial troubles.
“This is really a form of mindfulness, and it’s a good way of calming the mind.”
Despite the usefulness of these techniques, outside intervention was sometimes necessary.
Otago Rural Support Trust member Pat Macaulay helps farmers and other rural workers get the extra help they need.
“We are a free and confidential service for people to talk to about the issues they have,” Mrs Macaulay said.
“If the issues required more help, the trust would put people in touch with counselling services.