Southland Times October 2019

It used to be that a day’s haymaking was followed by a beer or two, sometimes at the local pub. But the gradual loss of country pubs is part of increasing isolation for farmers is being seen – and now addressed – by rural contractors.

Otago rural contractor Reid Gare was one of those attending a Good Yarns workshop at the RCNZ conference in Nelson earlier this year. Good Yarns is an evidence-based, peer-delivered, mental health literacy programme for workplaces, both rural and urban, that enables people to talk about mental health.

Reid says his staff often comment on the amount of time he spends talking to farmers. “Farmers and contractors both face a lot of time working alone. A lot of farmers love to have a yarn. I see that as just a part of my job or call it PR.”

He says contractors have to be careful as not everyone wants to talk and they can be masking range of emotions, though sometimes the signals are there that all is not well.

“I’ve seen guys react to some situations in the strangest of ways – that always raises alarm bells for me.”

Rural Contractors NZ vice president Helen Slattery lead the Good Yarns workshop at the Rural Contractors conference.  Helen trained as a Good Yarns facilitator after the loss of a family member due to suicide.

Good Yarns to be had with rural contractors. RCNZ vice president Helen Slattery and Otago contractor Reid Gare.

“These things are happening too often in rural communities.  Farmers can become isolated. As rural contractors, we are often the only person that they might see during the day. It’s important for them to have someone to yak to”

Helen says one place farmers used to be able to talk were country pubs.

“Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer of these, so farmers don’t get the same chance to meet mates and neighbours. Even for those who still have a pub within cooee face the realities of tougher drink driving laws.”

Reid Gare says it’s not just the loss of country pubs that’s causing more farmers to be isolated. With many farming wives and partners now working off-farm for both economic and social reasons, there was much less opportunity for partner-to-partner contact through the day.

“Sometimes farmers don’t go in for smoko and keep working. By the time the partner gets home they are both tired and there’s less chance to talk.”

Helen Slattery says rural contractors have to be prepared to encounter a range of emotions when talking to farmers who may be facing some difficult times.

“You can encounter anger, sullenness, someone who is withdrawn or highly animated. We are not trained counsellors. All we do is provide an opportunity to talk.”

In extreme situations where there may be a risk to life, the advice is to stay with the person but to call for help from an agency like Rural Support Trust or even police.

Conference sponsor Integrated Packaging sales manager Kim Harris said contractors were themselves working in a highly stressful environment and should also keep an eye on each other. Integrated Packaging announced a $3000 donation to the Rural Support Trust at the RCNZ conference.

  • If you need some support, it is available

Rural Support Trust  0800 787 254 50800

Depression helpline 0800 11575

Lifeline 0800 542 11757 24/7 phone advice

Need to Talk? Text 1737 for a service staffed 24/7 by mental health professionals