Hon Damien O’Connor: Supporting our rural communities

Opinion 13/06/2019

By the Hon Damien O’Connor, Minister of Agriculture, Labour.

This week, I’ve joined the thousands of people heading to Mystery Creek for Fieldays 2019.

I always look forward to spending time at Fieldays. One of the things I enjoy most about being on the ground at Mystery Creek is hearing firsthand about the issues that matter to our rural communities — whether it’s people’s experiences of Mycoplasma bovis, how the changing climate is affecting farming, or what we can do to improve water quality. But there’s one issue that comes up on a regular basis, something that has a huge, and often devastating, impact on people right across regional New Zealand.

That issue? The mental health of our rural communities.

We all know someone who has experienced mental health challenges, and half of us will experience mental illness ourselves at some stage. But for too long, people have struggled to access the mental health support they need. This is particularly true for those in remote and rural areas, where specialist services can sometimes be hours away.

This isn’t good enough. That’s why our Government is taking action to improve New Zealand’s mental health system, and make sure everyone – including those in our rural communities – can get help when they need it.

You may have already heard about the changes we’re making to mental health support through the Wellbeing Budget. At the centre of this is a new frontline mental health service, which will be rolled out nationwide over time. This service will see mental health workers in GP offices and medical centres around the country, so you can get the support you need, no matter where you live. It will also mean people can get help and advice early.

Before small issues become major problems.

I know that for many people in rural areas, even getting to a medical centre can be a barrier to accessing support. That’s why we’ve also invested an extra $20 million in telehealth to boost phone and online services, to ensure that those who live in the most isolated communities can get help when they need it.

Together, these changes will make a real difference for people across New Zealand.

This will help transform mental health support in rural areas. New Zealand relies on these communities, and we need to make sure they can access quality care and advice, when and where they need it.

Of course, improving mental health services is just one of the ways we’re supporting rural communities. We’ve also invested in a sustainable land package, which will provide practical support and advice for our rural communities as they adapt to big environmental challenges, we’re bolstering our biosecurity system on the back of Mycoplasma bovis, we’re pushing ahead with a progressive trade agenda to open new markets for our exporters, and we’re investing in science and innovation to help regional New Zealand grow.

The mental health crisis won’t be fixed overnight, but we're taking mental health seriously.

We’re taking a significant step forward.

I’m really pleased that, when people ask me about rural mental health at this year’s Fieldays, I can tell them that support is out there.

The Hon Damien O’Connor is Minister of Agriculture for Labour.