Why positive mental health role models matter in farming communities - Ben Barnett

Doug Avery
Doug Avery
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Never underestimate the power of a role model.

Discovering someone whose qualities you admire, often through a sense of shared experience or aspiration, has the potential to set in motion a personal journey of self-betterment and achievement.

New Zealand farmer Doug Avery was kind enough to spend 30 minutes of his time this week talking to me about his own phenomenal transformation.

Emerging from the depths of depression by embracing sustainable farming methods that enhanced soil health on his drought-ravaged farm, he is now an award-winning farmer and best-selling author.

Due to speak before an audience in Harrogate this month, he hopes both farmers and non-farmers will feel energised by his insights into how to work on mental wellbeing.

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His conviction to stand up in front of people and share his personal account came about because he found his own role model.

It was the honesty of his native rugby World Cup winning hero, John Kirwan, who went public about his own mental anguish amid a period of thrilling on-field performances, that empowered Mr Avery’s own frank admissions.

“If it wasn’t for that man I probably wouldn’t have had the courage,” he told me.

Having shot to public attention as a touring speaker on the back of his farm’s peer-leading transition, and with talk of an escalating suicide rate among farmers in his homeland, he decided, during a radio appearance to admit to his own five-year spiral during the lean drought years on his farm.

Such was the reaction – the radio station received an unprecedented response from listeners – that Mr Avery decided to try to help others build the sort of mental resilience that aided his recovery.

Now, like Mr Kirwan before him, Mr Avery is helping to normalise the conversation about mental health, and if just one person who attends his Farming Community Network-sponsored talk in Yorkshire is inspired to then go on and open up about their own struggles in their own way, who knows how far the effects could ripple out?