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Finding Solace in Lockdown

The Big 3 on Wellbeing with New Zealand Young Farmers

As Covid rears its ugly head again, this is a poignant time for all of us across the country to check in on each other whilst also looking after our mental health and wellbeing. New Zealand Young Farmers (NZYF) presented a webinar titled The Big 3 on Wellbeing, which featured three big names in the rural and mental health space; Elle Perriam, Kane Brisco, and Tangaroa Walker.

Hosted by Kereama Carmody of Kereama Consulting, this webinar was a casual chat during the second Level 4 lockdown in New Zealand that had over 270 people tuning in from all different parts of the country. From Rangiora, Kereama spent his younger years as a forestry worker in Canterbury for 14 years before transitioning into the mental health space where he’s been working for the last 19 years. A social worker by trade, Kereama has worked across a number of organisations, working primarily with youth aged 13-25 and the youth justice system. He now runs his own consulting business and works alongside Master Plumber where he oversees 280 apprentices across New Zealand, focussing on wellbeing amongst the workers.

This webinar was organised in the hopes that it would get people to open up more by hearing others talk about mental health in the rural sector. “We still don't, as Kiwi males, we still hold it in and we don't put our hand up and say that we're not feeling okay,” Kereama said. 

Mental health and its causes and effects have changed a lot over the years but there is an overwhelming increase in awareness today. The rise of technology, namely social media, can affect individuals’ well-being and how they view themselves. Tangaroa talked about how there is a stronger desire to be popular or liked, even by people you don’t even know, and social media has exacerbated this issue.

“I think, in terms of mental health, the problems that people have now are different. I think that in the last 10-15 years, with technology and the internet, life's changed so much from when I was a kid. I think anxiety is becoming a huge problem, ” Kane said.

A positive aspect of social media is the high number of people talking more about mental health and normalising it. The stories that people share help others to open up too. “Will to Live has a new project launching at the end of September which will be funding livestock farmers from around New Zealand with three private psychologist sessions, up to $600 worth," Elle said.

A positive aspect of social media is the high number of people talking more about mental health and normalising it. The stories that people share help others to open up too. “Will to Live has a new project launching at the end of September which will be funding livestock farmers from around New Zealand with three private psychologist sessions, up to $600 worth," Elle said.

Elle talked about how you don’t have to be depressed to ask for help and that it’s better to catch it early. “Prevention can start as soon as conscious parenting,” Elle said. Her first encounter with mental health issues started from childhood with little things piling up on top of one another. It’s much harder to unpack all of this in your adult life, she told us.

“I don't think there's anywhere near enough prevention. We're all ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. It's hard because there are so many people falling off the cliff that we need a lot of ambulances down there, but it's way easier to put the fence up the top. A lot of money goes to those ambulances but not much on the fence itself,” Kane said.

This is why prevention is so important and awareness is the key to unlocking this. “There’s a lot of gold in starting the conversation and telling your story,” Tangaroa said.

When working on-farm, you’re constantly busy trying to get ever ything done but a key reminder for Tangaroa is just to remember to take those little breaks and refuel your body. It can help to shift your mindset and stop burnout. “The last 20 minutes of work can be so draining and frustrating, but I go away, have some food, and come back feeling much more chilled and relaxed,” Tangaroa said.

Even though farmers continue to work over lockdown, it doesn’t make them feel any less isolated. Getting off-farm can sometimes be seen as a luxury as there are not always opportunities to go into town, especially if you’ve been working long hours over many consecutive days. “I struggled at the end of lockdown last time because, even though my family and I had an awesome time with the kids, I'm someone that still needs to get off-farm,” Kane said.

“The majority of people probably only get off-farm every 10 days or every fortnight. So, that 's just been taken away from us and that one day was our release.” Tangaroa added.

One thing that Elle said helps her during lockdown is practicing gratitude and choosing three things that she’s grateful for. “I think about it every day. It could be worse, I could not have all the space to run around. I could live in an apartment in the middle of Christchurch and not be able to go anywhere. Hopefully it will make everyone stop and smell the roses. You’re on a massive landscape, look at how much you have around you,” Elle said.

Sometimes it can be hard to change your mindset if you’re feeling off, especially when you’re trying to stop bad habits, but Tangaroa expressed that you sometimes have to change your environment in order to change your mindset. “The people that you surround yourself with can definitely change your environment for the better. So, for me, joining a sports team or a group of people with similar interests or values is a way to get out of it and change that mindset,” Tangaroa said.

One of Tangaroa’s coping mechanisms when he wants to relax, gain perspective and be fully present, is the four, seven, eight breathing technique. This is where you inhale for four seconds, hold for seven seconds and then exhale for eight seconds. Repeating for 10 rounds.

The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand (MHFNZ) talks about the Five Ways to Wellbeing which are to Connect, Be Active, Give, Take Notice and Keep Learning. Focussing on these five things regularly is said to help you with your mental health and wellbeing.

“I'm really big on self-awareness. Having an understanding of where you're struggling or where you're at in relation to those five pillars of health. The real key for me is understanding where I'm at and what I need to do to keep the table solid,” Kane said. “I often look to my past and what I've been through before. Taking some of the strength from your previous challenges can been quite powerful and recognising what you’re capable of,” Kane said.

Getting that work-life balance right is vital in farming communities, especially when a lot of people are finding it tough with staff shortages, environmental issues, government regulations and more. “There's so much on for farmers at the moment and that's probably why we are seeing quite bad mental illness rates in rural communities. How I define depression is the ‘shutdown from overwhelm’. So, it could be from one thing or it could be 10 things,” Elle said.

“I think it is really important to spend time off-farm. What I’m seeing and have experienced myself is, a lot of the time, the farm is the passion, the hobby, the work, the social – it’s everything. If the farm is everything and that one thing doesn't go right, there is nothing else to turn to for that sense of peace or relief. I’m an advocate for farmers to have hobbies outside of the farm.”

Tangaroa, Elle and Kane shared their tips on keeping themselves mentally well which included loving others, being active, finding gratitude and perspective.

“What I don't regret in life is spending time with my son and my partner and the people that I love,” Tangaroa said.

“Movement releases stored energy so if I'm feeling sad, frustrated guilty or angry, I just have to move and it releases that out of your body. It's another way of processing without having to talk to someone. I think movement is key,” Elle said.

“Everyone needs a reason to get out of bed and you need to be connected to that reason, so purpose and gratitude are a huge thing for me,” Kane said.

Follow NZYF on social media to keep up-to-date with future webinars. Website:, Instagram: @nzyoungfarmers, Facebook: New Zealand Young Farmers

As a rural community, it’s important to stay connected and find someone to talk to. If you or anyone you know is struggling, free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor. Here are some other national helplines provided by Mental Health Foundation New Zealand:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Samaritans: 0800 726 666