Mental Health Awareness Week: A chat with Gerard Vaughan

Gerard Vaughan is the Programme Director at Farmstrong, an award-winning rural wellbeing programme backed by research that helps farmers and growers get through the ups and downs of farming.

Farmstrong’s campaign for Mental Health Awareness week is ‘You Matter, Let’s Natter,’ which they used at Fieldays this year to lighten farmers’ loads. The campaign is all about having supportive listening conversations. Listening to someone who is ‘under the pump’ can make a huge difference to how they feel.

Gerard has a breadth of experience in the wellbeing space, so he has some amazing advice to share on how you can look after your best farming asset – that’s you!

(NZNFS): What do you think are some small steps that farmers and growers can take to help beat the stigma surrounding mental health on-farm?

(Gerard): Talking about things when you are under the pump with someone you trust is massive. To have honest conversations about how you are really thinking and feeling with someone else is a strength not a weakness, particularly if you are going through a tough patch.

Also, you can help a family member or a mate by asking them how they are getting on and then listening without judging or trying to solve their problem. Just listening to someone else really helps them.

(NZNFS): What steps do you take to look after your own mental health?

I am an active relaxer so love getting out into nature, in the bush, listening to the sounds of the birds, and jumping on my motorbike or my mountain bike. I also enjoy making a bit of noise on my guitar (although not sure if my kids enjoy it as much as what I do!)

Catching up and keeping in touch with family and friends is also high on the list. I enjoy working with the ag sector and the Farmstrong team as the people I have met and the programme content has taught me heaps.

(NZNFS): What are the red flags that farmers and growers need to look out for when they are experiencing burnout or depression?

(Gerard): We have a good Farmstrong resource called ‘Under the Pump’ which includes a check list of things to watch out for. Some of the common flags can be:

  • Getting grumpy or angry all the time
  • Just focusing on the negative things that are happening
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (can’t sleep or sleeping too much)
  • Not talking, withdrawing, and not going to social things
  • Not getting off the farm for breaks
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling disengaged and stopping doing things that you normally enjoy doing

These are some of the more common red flags to watch out for and mean that you need to start topping up your wellbeing.

(NZNFS): Is there any other wellbeing advice you’d like to share?

(Gerard): The most important asset in any business is the people who work in it – so investing in your wellbeing is key to running a successful business.

Small regular habits that top up your wellbeing are key. That way we have wellbeing to draw on when life throws curve balls at us. Think of it a bit like a ‘Wellbeing Bank Account.’ Your small regular habits like the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ are the regular investments in your wellbeing, so you have some to draw on when life is making withdrawals on you.

Helplines and support:

If you or your whānau and friends need wellbeing support, we encourage you to visit your doctor, chat with a mate, or get in touch with one of the helplines and services listed below:

Rural Support Trust: 0800 787 254
Will To Live RuralChange program: www.willtolivenz.com/i-want-help
Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 or free text 4202

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