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Sharing the Tools to Thrive

Time Out Tour by the Rural Support Trust

For farmers and growers, there are many unique challenges that come with living rurally. As the rural community faces increased pressure due to adverse events and economic hardship, looking after mental health and wellbeing is critical to being able to handle both personal challenges and those that are out of our control.

The Rural Support Trust is a nationwide network of trusts that aim to support farmers and growers experiencing challenging times, helping them identify ways to move forward and improve their mental wellbeing. The Trust are rural people themselves and understand the challenges that farmers and growers face living in isolated areas, having reduced services and being heavily reliant on the weather.

In 2022, Rural Trust partnered with farmer and TV personality Matt Chisholm to launch the Time Out Tour as a chance to connect with the rural community and continue the conversation about mental health. Acting as the Rural Support Trust ambassador, Matt has faced many of his own struggles, including being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but has learnt how to manage his mental health challenges to remain mentally fit for life. The Time Out Tour, which returned this November for four shows across the country, was a chance for Chisholm to share how he found a way through and discuss how rural communities can support each other.

“It’s really important when we share stories that we also share the tools that helped. Not everything will work for everyone, but the aim is to get some ideas out there so that people can identify something that may help them. The more tools we have in the toolbox, the more likely we are to find the one that fits. Matt is a very engaging and entertaining speaker, so it’s a chance to get off farm, have a bit of fun, catch up with friends and neighbours, and learn something to take home that may help at a later date,” said Maria Shanks, general manager at Rural Support Trust.

The Trust focuses on three key areas of support for farmers and growers: one-on-one support, community events and assistance for those impacted by adverse events. "One-on-one support could be something as simple as a yarn around the kitchen table or connecting farmers and growers with specialist services" said Maria. The Trust also offers a dedicated, free and confidential helpline who connect rural employees needing support with the right people.

“We receive calls about a range of topics, including relationships, employment, financial pressure, mental wellbeing, animal welfare and adverse event recovery. Often, once we start a conversation with someone, it will come to light that they are dealing with multiple stressors, so it’s important to understand this and help them work through piece by piece."

"We can then help identify different options that might assist and walk beside them as they work through their next steps. Our facilitators remain a steady point of contact and someone to talk to until they feel ready, and they will also refer clients to specialists where needed. This could be a counsellor, farm consultant, lawyer or other expert who can provide technical advice and support.”

The Trust frequently collaborates with other organisations to run community events that promote connection and wellbeing. Collectively there are 14 trusts, and each region has different community needs, which are reflected in the events they offer. “These can range from educational events such as the Good Yarn workshop to connection events where farmers and growers can get together and have a yarn. Farmers learn from other farmers, so it is good to provide an opportunity at events to talk to each other and share experiences. We work closely with the likes of Farmstrong and other organisations that have amazing resources to help increase awareness and educate rural communities on the importance of looking after yourself and your wider community,” Maria highlighted.

Another key focus for the Trust is supporting communities impacted by adverse events. This includes immediate support and longer-term recovery, as well as helping communities to prepare for possible future events. “Our North Island trusts are busy supporting farmers and growers impacted by the weather events earlier this year with many still working through an uncertain future and clearing up damage and silt. While the initial impacts can seem very visible at the time of an adverse event, there are many other ongoing impacts that will only be uncovered over long periods of time so it is important that farmers and growers in those regions, know that there is someone they can talk to for support on an ongoing basis,” continued Maria.

For farmers and growers, the pressure to keep up with an industry that is constantly changing and evolving can be overwhelming at the best of times. The current market downturn has “seen an increase in financial pressure due to the softening of some commodity prices, increasing input costs and higher interest rates,” said Maria, and while our farmers and growers continue to showcase their ability to adapt to changing circumstances, its important they have the tools and support to cope during these times.

“We are educated from an early age on the importance of physical health and how to look after it, but our mental wellbeing hasn’t always been considered in the same way. However, like physical health, it is a continuum, and we need to look after it so that we are better placed to manage in times of challenge,” Maria highlighted.

The Rural Support Trust not only aims to support rural people during times of hardship but also to help prepare them both physically and mentally to handle challenges as they arise and build resilience for the future.

“Rural life, both farming and growing, will always have its challenges, and our goal is to walk alongside rural people during those tough times and help them come out of it stronger.”

If you would like to get in touch with Rural Support Trust for support, help identifying options to move forward, or to simply have a chat, call the dedicated free and confidential helpline on 0800 787 254.