Encouraging rural men to speak out

On tour . . . Elle Perriam and Jess, the mascot for Will to Live. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Plenty of rural men are better at telling their dogs to “speak up” than they are at doing so themselves.

Elle Perriam (21) is on a mission to change that.

The Lincoln University student found herself faced head on with New Zealand’s mental illness crisis when her boyfriend Will Gregory took his own life in December 2017.

Mr Gregory was working as a shepherd near Kurow at the time.

Miss Perriam said she was left with a lot of anger at how few support services there were for young rural people, especially males.

Last year, she started Will to Live, an initiative aimed at supporting those people, by encouraging them to speak out about their problems.

This year, Will to Live is going on tour.

More than $30,000 has been pledged to fund the Speak Up Tour, which will visit several towns in New Zealand, including Kurow on August 3.

“These mental health events are purely a casual evening to come in and have a beer and a feed and listen to four amazing guest speakers that have experience in mental health.

“It’s really just a night to get them out of their stations and get them a bit more educated on self-healing and how to do it when you are in isolation.”

The speakers will include the likes of Miss Perriam, farmers who have faced mental health battles and mental health professionals who can explain the problems in depth.

After Mr Gregory died, Miss Perriam tried to get an appointment to see a counsellor and was put on an eight-week waiting list.

“It’s really about what you can do when you are stuck up a gully and battling.”

Miss Perriam, who hails from Haast, is juggling the commitments of running Will to Live with fulltime study towards a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness and food marketing at Lincoln University.

“I wouldn’t say there is much balancing being done at the moment.

“It is hard to study while doing this tour, but this is my love and I’m not going to half-arse it.

“Uni isn’t going anywhere but the crisis of mental health is right at this moment.”

She said the feedback had been “amazing” since the launch of Will to Live last year.

“We have had shepherds come up to us to thank us and say it had started conversations around the tailing pen.

“That just makes the whole thing worth it.”

Rural men were notorious for being staunch about their feelings, but Miss Perriam said this was starting to change.

“Whole communities have come together to make it happen in their town – [Will to Live] is not government-funded, it is people-funded.

“There are always going to be a few guys who think they are too ‘hard bastard’ to come.

“But I am also pushing through farm managers to take their boys along, it is good for them to have healthy staff.”

Eight venues have so far been confirmed for the South Island.

The tour begins in the North Island on June 26 and Miss Perriam said based on social media feedback, she expected the events to be well supported.

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