Home' Northern Outlook : May 25th 2013 Contents 4 NORTHERN OUTLOOK, MAY 25, 2013
Surviving rural suicide
DARK PLACE: The stresses of dealing with everything from weather to stock prices can prove too much for farmers on top of
the everyday pressures of life.
Despite being rarely discussed, depression and suicide are issues of grave concern in rural communities, and North
Canterbury is not immune. RACHEL MACDONALD looks into some of the causes, results, and measures being taken locally
to address a disturbing trend.
FOR EVERY on-farm quad bike death nationwide,
there are 18 rural suicides.
That's a figure that, until the recent Farmsafe con-
ference in Wellington, few New Zealanders were
In North Canterbury, add that trend to the ongoing
stresses of coping with life since September 2010 and
the residual trauma left by the earthquakes, and our
suicide statistics are already grim this year alone.
Federated Farmers health and safety spokeswoman
Jeanette Maxwell says suicide is probably the major
issue in the rural health and safety sector, but
given the taboo around the subject, it remains the
Ministry of Health figures from 2010 show that
there were 16 rural suicides each 100,000 population
that year, compared with about 11 in our cities, but
she fears that could be worse this year. Rural suicide
rates are traditionally linked to farming conditions
and that means this year's drought, which will con-
tinue to affect farmers for years to come, is likely to
result in a spike in numbers of farmers harming them-
selves, she says.
She attributes a large part of the problem to the
perception of failure in rural people who pride them-
selves on coping with whatever gets thrown at them,
when it comes to admitting that they are depressed
and need help.
The reality is, people get depressed. And in a more
isolated work environment, the challenges to get bet-
ter can be more difficult,'' she says.
Doug Archbold, from the North Canterbury Rural
Support Trust agrees, but says the road to suicide
prevention and recovery is further complicated by the
lack of availability of healthcare in rural areas.
For someone who is depressed, their first port of
call should be their family doctor, but so many of our
communities don't have permanent GPs. This is a
critical problem nationwide,'' he says.
Depression is an illness and often needs medical
intervention, as well as mentoring and counselling
support, before it's too late.''
More support to
come for farmers
THE INSIDIOUS nature of
depression plays a large part in
A desperate act can be triggered
by one specific situation, but there is
almost always a chain of smaller
events and stresses leading up to
that point, and this is where in-
tervention can fundamentally
change the outcome.
Federated Farmers health and
safety spokeswoman Jeanette
Maxwell believes there needs to be a
targeted strategy for approaching
depression, particularly in the
We need to have an ambulance at
the top of the cliff, not just at the
bottom,'' she says.
Like any healthy community, we
need our neighbours and our friends
to watch out for us, and we need to
reach out to those we recognise are
Doug Archbold, of the North
Canterbury Rural Support Trust,
says moves are already afoot to see
how rural support providers can bet-
ter serve their communities.
There are five of us in North
Canterbury -- the trust, Federated
Farmers, Young Farmers, Rural
Women New Zealand, and the Dairy
To date, we've all been doing
our best as separate entities, but
we're now looking at how we can pool
our resources to achieve a better
result without reinventing the
wheel,'' he says.
Another initiative under way is
the Funky Farmer's Food project.
This was set up to raise awareness in
the rural sector of the importance of
eating healthily, but also has a
strong mentoring element, says
Rural Canterbury Primary Health
Organisation's Leanne Liddell.
Funky Farmer's Food focuses on
self-care for farmers and farm staff,
and also on helping make employers
aware of the holistic health of their
staff, and that includes mental
wellbeing,'' she says.
Doug says it will be interesting to
see whether rural suicide figures
change as farms pass into the hands
of a younger generation who are
better qualified and have more open
attitudes than older generations.
If you're worried about yourself or
someone else talk to friends, family
and your GP.
Contact the North Canterbury Rural
Support Trust on 0800 787 254 or
call Psychiatric Emergency Services on
(0800) 920 092, or dial 111.
Speak up on suicide
No secret: Linda Dobbs has lost family members
and an ex-partner to suicide. She says we need
to start talking about suicide to prevent it.
THE WAIMAKARIRI Bereaved by Suicide
Support Group was founded last year to
help reduce the isolation felt by those left
behind after a suicide.
Sarah Lodge, the Waimakariri District
Council's injury prevention co-ordinator,
says the idea was to create a safe and con-
fidential environment in which anyone
affected by suicide could be supported by
others going through the same experience.
It is a forum for sharing and a sounding
board for discussing fears and concerns.
More than that, though, it's a compassion-
ate, non-judgmental setting where free
expression of grief is fine,'' Sarah says.
Suicide isn't an easy thing to discuss and
some people don't feel comfortable talking to
others about it because there can be an
element of shame attached to the death.''
Linda Dobbs of Pines Beach has been a
member of the group since it started. She
holds a diploma in social work and counsel-
ling, and specialises in suicide. Her ex-
partner killed himself 11 years ago.
With him, it was never a case of if, but
when,'' she says. He had tried before, then
thought he had everything together, but
then he ended up in that dark place again.''
She says the major problem for those
bereaved by suicide is the tendency to
So often, people are wracked by guilt.
And it doesn't help that very few suicides
leave a note explaining their reasons.
It took me a long time -- years -- to under-
stand that the only person in a suicide's
thoughts at the time they kill themselves
She says that's why she joined the support
group. She understands the misery of self-
doubt in those left behind.
Every suicide has a story and every one
is different. All we can do is find out what's
driving their depression and help them with
that; or if it's too late, use what we do know
to help others.''
However, she feels suicide will continue
as long as we continue to tip-toe around it.
We're only really starting to talk about
depression and we still don't talk about
suicide at all. It's not in the papers, it's not
discussed on the TV, so we don't understand
it as a community, and that won't change
until we destigmatise it.''
The Waimakariri Bereavement by Suicide
Support Group meets every fourth Monday at
the Hope Cafe
´ in Rangiora. Sarah Lodge can
be reached on 021 737 402.
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