© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

Farmers get their kit off for mental health

Jessica Dermody
Jasmine Simpson, Australia
Jasmine Simpson, a Kiwi working in Australia, poses for the Naked Shepherd Challenge.  Image supplied

"If you are courageous enough to get your kit off, then you’re brave enough to talk about mental health," says rural mental health advocate.

Elle Perriam is the founder of Will to Live, a non-profit mental health organisation focussed on helping young rural people. 

The 22-year-old from Haast founded Will to Live after her boyfriend, Will, a 21-year-old farmer, lost his life to suicide in 2017.

The charity toured the country in 2019 to raise mental health awareness in the rural community. It hosted events at local pubs and encouraged conversation between young farm workers.

Perriam was blown away by the support.

"We had 150 to 200 people at each one. We were stoked. We got 4500 rural people within two months, so that was awesome," she said.

The money raised was earmarked Will to Live events this year, but Covid-19 meant everything had to be postponed.

Perriam wanted to keep the conversation going though and so the Naked Shepherd Challenge was born in collaboration with Australian rural mental health charity The Naked Farmer.

The Naked Shepherd Challenge involves people from the rural community to take a picture on the farm, in their birthday suit, along with a few words about their mental health journey.

"The whole point is, if you are courageous enough to get your kit off, then you’re brave enough to talk about mental health", Perriam said.

"It’s not just about taking the photo and having a laugh. It's making you reflect on what you do have, and I'm so astounded. It only takes a couple guys to really talk about their depression or anxiety story and then everyone sends one."

Elle Perriam
Elle Perriam, the founder of rural mental health charity, Will To Live. Supplied

Jasmine Simpson, a Kiwi working in Australia, is one of the many farmers who has braved getting starkers and shedding light on her mental health.  

"I think it's a great idea. I was missing home a bit and to take part in it and see everyone else's submissions was awesome... I think it will help reading other people's experiences and gives people other ways to look at things," Jasmine said. 

Perriam believed people working in agriculture tended to be more susceptible to mental health problems.

"Some rural people are isolated 24/7. We have just been in isolation [as a country], so for urban people, imagine being [in a similar] isolation for years and years, and working in isolation, being in the same household for six months on end, before you can go and see your mates," she said.

With the upcoming election, Perriam feared the agricultural community would be forgotten despite suicide and mental health issues continuing to be prominent.

"I feel that we're always ignored."

Perriam said her work with Will To Live had inspired her to study naturopathy as it would enable her to help people in more ways.

Elle Perriam
Elle Perriam with her horse and dog Supplied: Elle Perriam.

New Zealand recorded 13.93 suicides per 100,000 people from 2018 to 2019.

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