Research starting this year will look at the mental health impact on rural people from the loss of community services when livestock farms are converted to forestry.
Southland counsellor Kathryn Wright is embarking on a PhD study on the issue, saying the loss of population from land use change leads to a loss of rural services, which can impact the mental wellbeing of those who remain.
“There is an intrinsic connection to how community groups bolster the mental wellbeing of individuals,” she said.
“With a lack of population, it is inevitable that you get this decline.”
The closure of community or sporting groups, services or retail outlets due to declining population when farms are converted to forestry can accentuate loneliness or isolation for those who remain.
Wright said isolation can be both geographic and from severed rural connections, both of which lead to a loss of connection and purpose.
Sales for forestry can also generate grief in the community at the loss of history and heritage.
“There is grief that it will never be the same again.”
Wright said the impact on communities of land use change was regularly raised while she was completing a Master’s study on the mental health of young rural men.
She is not blaming farmers for selling their land to forestry companies, saying they have to act in their best interests and may have financial, age or health pressures or have been trying unsuccessfully to sell their farm for a long time.
Land use change from livestock to forestry requires a government response and she hopes her study will be used when policy is considered but to also assist rural community groups when seeking funding or grants.
Wright is still awaiting some administrative sign-off but said she will be talking to groups and individuals as part of her study.
Meanwhile Rural GP Network chair Fiona Bolden said rural community volunteers were once again the unsung heroes of the Christmas holiday period.
As holidaymakers descended on regional lakes and coastal areas, ambulance, first responder, fire and Coast Guard cover were largely provided by rural volunteers while local GPs and nurses worked through the period to provide care.
“There is very little acknowledgement and understanding of the extent to which this is happening,” Bolden 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