This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.
While the widespread devastation wrought by Cyclone Gabrielle and the enormous work and resources required to mend land, roads, buildings and businesses have dominated headlines, there’s equally important effort going into looking after the mental wellbeing of the people affected by the disaster.
As floodwaters receded and the sheer scale of the physical damage was revealed, the government confirmed an additional $3.25 million in funding to support the immediate mental wellbeing needs of people impacted.
Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall confirmed the funding after meeting frontline mental health workers in Hawke’s Bay. This is in addition to existing walk-in mental wellbeing services in general practice.
“This funding includes an expansion of the ‘All Sorts’ mental wellbeing campaign which supports communities with tools to look after each other’s wellbeing. We’re also bringing in a team of mental health workers to offer local support to those most impacted by the cyclone,” the minister said.
“Additionally, Te Aka Whai Ora is designing a Māori-led response to support te ao Māori mental wellbeing solutions. I want those facing the worst of it to understand that it’s okay not to be okay. When you need support, it will be there for you.”
As well as free face-to-face services, the government is funding a range of free tele-health and digital services for those unable to travel to services, Verrall said.
In July the government confirmed its support for Rural Support Trusts to help them in their work with affected farmers with at least $2.4m funding for the 2023-24 financial year.
“During those significant weather events, the Rural Support Trust stepped up to provide critical response and recovery services to affected farmers, growers, and rural communities,” said Local Government Minister Keiran McAnulty.
“Recovery efforts in these regions are ongoing and increased demand for wellbeing support is likely to continue, placing additional demand on Rural Support Trusts.”
The Rural Support Trust is a collective of 14 regional trusts that deliver free and confidential assistance to farmers and growers facing personal, financial, or climate-related challenges.
“The funding will assist Rural Support Trusts to co-ordinate local recovery services, clean-up efforts, wellbeing events, extension workshops, and provide other specialised support,” McAnulty said.
“It will also include delivering regional recovery plans and providing one-on-one support and a mental health referral service for farmers and growers.”
The trust’s website offers the most up-to-date information to help victims of the flooding deal with its impacts. The Ministry for Primary Industries is also meeting regularly with farmers, growers, rural businesses and Māori landowners to help focus support efforts.
MPI’s website lists a wide range of contacts where support can be found.
Another farmer’s mental wellbeing support organisation, Farmstrong, also has important hands-on information online, advice on how to handle the ups and downs and things to look out for that indicate unhealthy stress levels.
It lists bodily symptoms like breathing problems, upset stomach and reduced sex drive, mental symptoms including difficulty making decisions and poor concentration, emotional issues like worrying excessively, tearfulness and a short fuse, and behavioural issues including poor eating, withdrawing from people and activities and becoming reactive rather than proactive.
Farmstrong’s site also lists some simple tips including making sure you get enough sleep, staying connected to friends and family and getting off farm to recharge.
“You need that strong commitment to keeping yourself well because the farming environment can be bloody challenging,” farmer Eliot Cooper says on Farmstrong’s site.
Meanwhile a support package for growers, farmers and businesses affected by the weather events, in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Tairāwhiti, Hawke’s Bay, Tararua, and Wairarapa, is expected to open at the end of July-early August.
This will include a loan guarantee scheme as well as access to concessionary loans and equity finance, targeted at viable businesses unable to access lending.
The North Island Weather Events (NIWE) Loan Guarantee Scheme will provide relief to affected firms seeking commercial lending.
“This scheme leverages the Crown’s financial strength by carrying 80% of the credit risk on covered loans, allowing banks to reduce interest rates and offer more flexible terms,” says Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
The NIWE Primary Producer Finance Scheme will provide access to capital for affected growers and farmers unable to access lending without further support. The funding will target severely affected businesses that have a reasonable likelihood of being commercially viable but cannot currently access commercial finance.
“Many businesses severely affected by the weather events are likely to be commercially viable with the right support,” McAnulty said.
Suffering from depression or stress, or know someone who is? Where to get help:
RURAL SUPPORT TRUST: 0800 RURAL HELP
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234