Supporting Rural Mental Health

March 2015

The work of the Rural Support Trust in Hawkes Bay

The most recent suicide rate for people living in rural areas is 16 per 100,000 people compared to 11.2 for every 100,000 people living in urban areas.

John Kirwan’s association with the depression campaign has removed the stigma of the disease, especially for men. But for farmers, there’s a fear that the message is not getting through.

The pressures in farming are harsh; it is a constant battle to balance and stay afloat, there are climatic issues and market prices to contend with, combined with the isolation they face. On top of that, farm businesses are reliant on factors out of the farmer’s control, such as a big drop in the dairy payout, making them as a group much more vulnerable to harsher times and feelings of frustration and helplessness.

Farmer David Hunt says farmers can be a bit macho when it comes to admitting they need help, visiting the doctor or taking medication to fix problems. Farmers as a whole are independent people and like to solve problems themselves, including their health issues. David says he made that mistake, refusing to take antidepressants, and it almost killed him.

“In the four years, I went back and forth from the farm to the local medical centre. I met several different locums and not one recommended I get counselling. When I said I did not want to take medication, there was no attempt to persuade me, but in the end that is what helped me get better.”

He says that for a year he couldn’t work. There were months on end when he was unable to do something simple like driving. It took trial and error to find a GP that he could relate to and could help him find a way out. Medication and counselling were things that helped. He also says being able to talk about the problem was good medicine as well.

David says a farming colleague was feeling suicidal and phoned the medical centre for an emergency appointment but was turned down, because they were fully booked, and was told to come back the next week. He could not wait that long and committed suicide that weekend. It was this experience that made him realise he needed to speak out to help prevent that tragic outcome happening again.

Dick Kingston is the Hawkes Bay Coordinator of the Rural Support Trust. The Rural Support Trust is part of a nationwide network that is set up to assist rural people and communities. The services are free and confidential.

When the Minister of Agriculture makes a declaration about an extreme weather or other adverse event, it enables the trust to access funds made available through MPI.  Dick says outside of those periods of crisis, during peace times, the Rural Support Trust operates with donations.

Trust members are local rural people with a range of experience in dealing with the challenges facing those in the rural sector. The trust has four coordinators. Dick had his phone running hot with people in the area concerned about their neighbours and their state of wellbeing following the suicide of a well known farmer in the region. He says this is what is needed in rural communities – neighbours, friends and colleagues having the courage to acknowledge something is not right and do something about it.

Dick says the first port of call for people with a problem should still be their GP but there are also other avenues of help for those in rural sector. Various agriculture sectors have been part of a Federated Farmers’ push to help focus on the issue. is a site where others in the rural sector share their stories about their battle with depression.

David Hunt says it is important to note it is the little things that push people over the edge. Depression can be caused by either a particular situation, or it can creep up on a farmer – financial problems, extreme weather or relationship breakdowns can get the ball rolling, but he says it is the day-to-day things that can tip someone over the edge.

“If you think someone is struggling, be brave, pick up the phone, knock on the door or find someone who has a rapport with that person to help. At least you tried.”