Emergency room doctor Tom Mulholland is on his way around the South Island, determined to be the ambulance at the top of the cliff for farmers. Susan Sandys reports.
Dr Tom Mulholland has himself survived two life-threatening events – a tsunami and being stabbed. He has also come through a serious bout of depression.
In 1994, he was working as a surf camp doctor in Java when a tsunami hit at 2am and he was smashed up into the jungle. About 400 people were killed when the large wave hit the island.
Then in Auckland several years ago Dr Mulholland was visiting a friend, when he was viciously stabbed in his arm in a home invasion. The knife hit his radial artery, but emergency surgery ensured he did not bleed to death.
And when his children were young his wife left him, making him miserable and depressed. It was around the turn of the millenium, and there was not a lot of easily accessible public information on depression.
“Half the stuff I read put me to sleep, and the other half made me more depressed,” Dr Mulholland said.
But he managed to come out of it, and one of the main things which helped him was turning his thinking around.
Recognising the thoughts which lead to an emotional response is at the core of teachings by Dr Mulholland, who has authored the best seller Healthy Thinking. About two years ago he launched his own initiative of driving around the country in a retro ambulance to talk to groups about his healthy thinking strategies.
He recently teamed up with Farmstrong, a charitable initiative established last year by the Mental Health Foundation, rural insurer FMG and the Movember Foundation. Farmstrong’s focus is rural wellbeing, and ACC has recently come on board as a strategic partner.
Talking at a free Healthy Thinking breakfast seminar held by Farmstrong at the Hotel Ashburton earlier this month, attended by about 30 farmers, Dr Mulholland instructed in healthy thinking strategies. One of those was to ask the question “Have you twigged yet?”, playing on the acronym, TWiG. The T is for true – are your thoughts true? The Wi for Worth it – is it worth it to have the emotional response those thoughts trigger? The G for Goal – did your emotional response help you achieve your goal?
He gave an example of a Canterbury farmer recently being forced off his land due to hard times, and that farmer thinking he only knew farming and there was nothing else he could do. In fact, farming had given him a wide range of skills which could be used in other jobs. And for Dr Mulholland himself, his wife leaving had made him think he had lost his family, when that in fact was not the case.
“You get into this place where you are trapped,” Dr Mulholland said.
In some cases a negative thought might be true, so the answer to the T question would be yes.
However, if either or both of the Wi and G questions return a negative response, then it was time to change those thoughts around to a positive perspective.
Healthy thinking was both a drench and a fertiliser, the drench blasting out stress and anxiety, and the fertiliser nourishing well-being and happiness.
The hardware of someone’s brain had to be okay before healthy thinking could work its magic, and anyone suffering depression needed to see their GP or talk to someone about it.
Problems such as drought and low payout may continue to come back and haunt farming as the decades unfold, but farmers could help future generations by demonstrating healthy thinking.
Dr Mulholland also reminded farmers about their physiological fitness, and urged them to eat healthily, take breaks, get enough sleep, and visit their GP for a check-up annually.
“People say to me it must be awesome working in emergency department, you could help so many people.
But most of the time the damage has been done. We save more lives at talks like this than we do being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff,” he said.
He played the Attitude Health Game with the Ashburton crowd, asking everyone to stand up, then sit down if they answered no to a question he posed, such as, do you know your cholesterol levels, do you still get sunburnt, do you eat too much salt, and do you exercise at least three times per week. There was just one woman standing at the end.
Dr Mulholland was on a six-week tour of the South Island in his ambulance, which he had left in Christchurch as he popped down to Ashburton with the Farmstrong team. They were off to the Greta Valley that evening, to give a talk at the local pub.
They were expecting a full house, with more than 70 farmers having registered.
– By Susan Sandys