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Ministers Doocey and Patterson Meet with Otago & Southland Rural Support Trusts
Katrina Thomas
/ Categories: National, Otago, Southland

Ministers Doocey and Patterson Meet with Otago & Southland Rural Support Trusts

New Zealand’s first minister for mental health is vowing to enable local solutions to meet local needs.

Story by Neal Wallace from Farmers Weekly (Thursday 24 January 2024)

Photo: Aiming to fix rural mental health. Minister for Mental Health Matt Doocey, left, met with Otago trust chair Tom Pinckney, his Southland counterpart Cathie Cotter and NZ First Otago list MP and Associate Agriculture Minister Mark Patterson this week.

Matt Doocey hopes to partner with local groups to meet the mental health support need, as rural support trusts highlight “funding is not keeping pace with demand”.

New Zealand’s first minister for mental health is vowing to enable local solutions to meet local needs.

Matt Doocey met with representatives from Otago and Southland Rural Support Trusts this week and said his approach is to deliver mental health services by partnering with groups and sectors, using their connections and the trust they have with those they work with.

“I want to gear up and partner with sectors who know the generic issues.”

He also wants bi-partisan political agreement on mental health services to avoid policy changes with the general election cycle along with better collaboration between government departments in the delivery of those services.

That means moving funding and service delivery away from the Wellington bureaucracy and channelling it to those working in the front line such as Rural Support Trusts.

Rural Support Trusts know people who need support and how to get it to them.”

Doocey was told the two southern trusts have a combined baseline funding this financial year of about $100,000 with additional funds provided to respond to serious events.

Southland trust chair Cathie Cotter said that funding is not keeping pace with demand.

She said the volunteer-based organisations are dealing with more and increasingly complex cases from under-pressure farmers.

Southland Rural Trust at the end of last year said that a combination of financial pressures, flooding, employment issues and isolation had taken a toll on farmers’ mental health.

The organisation received 31 new cases between August and November, twice as many as in the same quarter a year before, of farmers struggling with financial pressures, personal and business relationship challenges and exhaustion from calving and lambing.

Of new cases nationally between August and November last year, the highest proportion, 40%, were from the Southern Southland region.

Otago trust chair Tom Pinckney told Doocey that one of the major successes of the organisation has been shifting the focus from an ambulance at the foot of the cliff to the fence at the top.

By supporting surfing and skiing activities for farmers, the trust helps them get away from their daily grind so they can mix with others, experience something different and realise others face similar issues before these challenges become seemingly insurmountable.

“We help run events, which is putting a fence at the top of the cliff.

“We get people talking about these things and the issues they face,” Pinckney said.

“Base funding is needed to put the fence at the top of the cliff.”

Those financial pressures are accentuated by the need to be in a state of readiness should a natural crisis emerge.

Doocey said he heard their concerns “loud and clear” and while not able to make any promises, he said the meeting was the first of many he intends holding with organisations dealing directly with those facing mental health issues.

Associate Minister of Agriculture and Otago-based NZ First list MP Mark Patterson invited Doocey to meet southern Rural Support Trust members, saying he admired their work and he wanted to highlight that they provide a structure for the delivery of mental health services.

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