MENTAL health advocate and 2019 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year, Mike King, will lead a convoy of 20 tractors through the streets of Invercargill this month to send a message of hope to Southlanders.
In the lead-up to Gumboot Friday on April 3, the commute would take the group across the length of the country on a 2000km journey to promote positive, societal and attitudinal change towards mental health in New Zealand.
The official launch would be open to community members at the Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill at 6.30pm, on Wednesday, March 4. There were 100 tickets available for members of the public (limit two per person) which could be collected from the Ascot Park Hotel on a first come, first served basis, by noon that day.
The aim of the Gumboot Friday initiative, which launched last year, was to raise $5 million for free counselling across the country.
Last year, Gumboot Friday raised $1.3 million to provide 10,670 critical counselling sessions to more than 2500 New Zealanders.
New Zealand statistics released by the Chief Coroner in August last year, showed 17 more people had taken their own lives in the year ending June 30, 2019, of 685 people who committed suicide for the year.
King said now more than ever, Kiwis needed to reach out to their whanau.
“We encourage everyone to ask those you’re closest to if they’re ok.
“Our nationwide trek is about raising awareness and encouraging communities and individuals to drive the attitudinal and social change that is needed to reverse the incidence of anxiety, suicide and depression.”
This year, with the help of the “highly experienced” Tractor Trek team, the group was focused primarily on rural communities which faced high rates of poor mental health and suicide, he said.
Tractor Trek was a fundraising drive created by Ohinewai farmer Phil Ash in 2016, to raise support and awareness for Hospice.
A chance encounter between his daughter, Cat Levine, and King led to the Trek supporting the Gumboot Friday initiative this year.
Ms Levine, manager of the Gumboot Friday Tractor Trek, said the trek was intended to send a message of hope to those in need to let them know they were not alone.
“As fourth-generation farmers, supporting and raising awareness for positive mental health within the farming community is something we feel strongly connected to as a family.”
Federated Farmers president and health spokeswoman Katie Milne said rural communities faced “physical and mental isolation, economic instability and limited access to health services” which contributed to poor mental health.
“Too many rural folk are so busy looking after their families, their animals, their friends and workmates that they put themselves at the bottom of the list, and fail to reach out for help.”
She said King was a “champion” for getting important conversations about mental health out in the open.