When Covid sent New Zealand into lockdown, Mid Canterbury based Craig Wiggins’ usual work as a speaker and MC for events was effectively shelved. Undeterred, Wiggins turned to social media to connect with farmers and the rural community.
Whatever With Wiggy began as a Facebook page and group in April, 2020, building connections when Covid had further isolated farmers from their mates and communities.
“I started a Zoom meeting on Thursday nights called Whatever with Wiggy, and it really grew,” Wiggins says.
“We ended up with politicians in there and we talked about mental health and farming issues. It was a real community and had quite a lot of members through the Facebook page.”
In September, 2021, the importance of mental health was brought home tragically for Wiggins when he lost two friends to suicide.
“I realised we were missing something.
“We were stuck inside our phones and not connecting with people from our past or even communicating well, especially through Covid.”
Wiggins sent out a challenge on Facebook and created a video asking farmers to “lean on a gate and talk to a mate” in the way farmers had decades ago at the saleyards.
The video went viral and a grassroots mental health movement was born.
Whatever With Wiggy is now a charitable organisation, with a group of trustees that help Wiggins move the organisation forward.
“We just wanted to be transparent about what we are doing.
“We don’t want this to be a money-gathering exercise; we want it to be a facilitation program.”
Whatever With Wiggy works with the Carr Family Foundation to run rural health checks for farmers at events.
Wiggins will be at the South Island Dairy Event in a purpose-built van with medical professionals to give health checks to farmers.
“Some of them haven’t been to a doctor for quite some time, so we just do it while they’ve got their gumboots on where they are instead of trying to get them into town.”
The organisation sees Wiggins travel the country, recently visiting Northland, a region still struggling after Cyclone Gabrielle, for another of the organisation’s initiatives, Agriconnect.
Agriconnect runs seminars for rural professionals who are often the only point of contact for farmers and may be faced with struggling clients.
The seminars give rural professionals, who are on the front line with farmers, the tools and awareness of what to look for, how to offer help and the appropriate avenues to get a farmer who is struggling the support they need.
“We educate the rural service industries on how to have those conversations, how to look after their colleagues and clients and what services are available in each area.
“It’s regional-based and it’s not from the top down.
“It’s more grassroots as to what’s available in each area.”
Wiggins said there is no silver bullet or quick fix for solving the mental health problems facing rural New Zealand.
“The only way we are going to fix this is to build stronger communities.
“So strong communities are strong people, and strong people are strong communities.
“The rates of suicide are hard to analyse in rural New Zealand because some of them become what’s known as accidental deaths.
“The reason I’m doing this, though, is because of the fallout of depression and poor mental health has on our families, which means our partners and children especially.
“If we can help them help their people, we can help the whole picture.”
For anyone that is struggling, getting to the root of the problem is essential, whether that is around farm succession planning or a relationship, for example.
“It comes down to communication.
“There’s no point putting a Band-Aid over mental health.
“You have to figure out what’s triggering it.”
- By Claire Inkson