North Otago farmers packed out the Oamaru Opera House ODT InkBox Theatre for last week’s “Staying Positive” seminar.

The main drawcards were guest speakers Tangaroa Walker and Sarah Perriam. Mr Walker won the inaugural Ahuwhenua New Zealand Young Maori Farmer of the Year title in 2012 and founded the Farm 4 Life online education business, and Ms Perriam is a broadcaster who has also toured New Zealand with her sister Elle’s Will to Live rural mental health programme.

They were brought to town by Red Meat Profit Partnership Action Network facilitators Michelle McLean and Fraser McKenzie in collaboration with Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

Mr McKenzie said although our farming businesses had never performed better, and farmers today were miles away from the trauma of the 1980s, it was evident they felt unease and uncertainty.

We have record low inflation and interest rates, plus thousands of hectares under irrigation, yet still anxiety prevailed, he said.

He was “really stoked” so many people attended the seminar.

Otago Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Lindsay Purvis said he had farmed through the ’80s and had suffered from a form of depression. The Lions Club he belonged to was “a vehicle to help me through that”, but he failed to see how much his condition and their situation had affected his wife.

“You don’t get depressed overnight,” he told the audience.

He advised everyone who was feeling pressured to remain connected with their family, community, and financiers.

“Get involved with a local club. Get off the farm. You can’t have a day off at home.

“Maybe on Sunday, go to Moeraki, have fish and chips and let the kids play on the beach.”

Mr Purvis asked the audience to add the trust’s 0800 787-254 number to their mobile phone contact lists.

Ms Perriam recommended farmers ask themselves why they were farming.

“If it’s just so the kids can take over the family farm, it’s not enough.”

Both she and Mr Purvis recommended listening as the best way to help another person struggling with anxiety.

”Often that’s all it takes,” Mr Purvis said.

“They’ve got no-one they can talk to.”

Ms Perriam said it was important for supporters not to foist their own situation on the other person.

“Don’t respond with advice or answers. We’ve all got a story to tell; listen to theirs.

“Use your own experiences within your head to help them.

“If people are not willing to accept help or shift or change, leave them alone – it’s a waste of your energy.

“Change is hard and confronting. You have to face up with stuff that’s ugly and messy.”

Ms Perriam said she used goal-setting to give her a sense of purpose and reassessed it every quarter.

“But you can’t talk about goals with people who are spinning out of control. They’re not ready for us. They have to heal first.”

She valued gratitude as a way of retaining perspective.

“The struggle ends when gratitude begins. You can’t be angry, you can’t be depressed when you start to recite what you’re grateful for.”

Mr Walker said he was very “goal-driven” when he was 21 – and it helped him win farming awards.

“The judges loved it.”

Now, his goal is happiness. To that end he goes diving twice a week and sees his mates at his CrossFit gym every day.

When asked how they coped with negativity on social media, Mr Walker said farmers “wipe it out” by posting more positive comments.

Ms Perriam said she doesn’t let it hit her.

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