Farmers 'need help to talk about their pain'

Farmer Paul Bourke says mental health support was about caring for your mates.
Farmer Paul Bourke says mental health support was about caring for your mates.

A Pihama dairy farmer who has never forgotten the tortured feelings of depression has voiced his support for a rural mental health campaign.

Paul Bourke said the Federated Farmers "When Life's a Bitch" campaign, featuring a push for better resources for rural communities' mental health, was about caring for your mates.

As part of the campaign, wallet-size cards outlining information about mental illness and where to go for help are being delivered to the country's farmers.

Often, farmers found it easier to discuss weather or grass growth rather than issues such as the loss of loved ones to cancer, accidental road death, or the death of a child.

"People don't ask about how others are feeling. Sometimes you have to go deeper than 'How are you?'," he said.

A prompt for inquiry could be an impression a person was not their usual bright self - perhaps because of family challenges.

"There can be a trail of carnage.

"It's especially tough for those families who have lost loved ones to suicide. The funeral's only the beginning."

Mr Bourke said relying on district health boards and health services to support people with mental health problems was all very well, but ordinary people lending a hand was often of more value.

He had never forgotten how bad depression felt.

"A few helped, but most people didn't know what to say."

One-on-one support from someone - not necessarily a close friend - prepared to walk alongside sufferers on their journey of pain was vital.

"Often it's harder to communicate with the people you're closest to. And it's easier [for the supporter] to listen when they're further back. You need big ears and a little mouth.

"Unless you've been there, you don't have any understanding of it. It's hard to find the right words to describe the feelings."

Mr Bourke has organised courses training people in the community to help those suffering from mental illness.

There would always be people who would need assistance and the community needed to take responsibility for them - whether they lived in rural or urban communities, he said.

A 2008 Taranaki study showed people in rural communities were at particular risk of suicide, with men in the province taking their own lives at a rate of 28.5 per 100,000, compared with the national rate of 20.5 per 100,000.

Taranaki Daily News