Farmer support through Dairy Connect

Lisa and Hamish Lile in their new town of Cambridge.

In 2014, farmers Lisa and Hamish Lile, and their daughters, Dana and Hayley, took the brave decision to go public with their story of Hamish’s fight with depression and Lisa’s struggle with being his support during the darker times.

As part of the rural mental health depression programme managed by the Health Promotion Agency and fronted by John Kirwan, they featured in one rural video for

Six years on, Lisa is still involved in supporting rural families who are facing mental health issues. She was approached by DairyNZ to be a support farmer/person as part of their Dairy Connect initiative.

“It was a good fit for me. I had something to offer from both my 25 years in dairy farming, and my experience with depression,” says Lisa.

Farmers who approach Dairy Connect are matched with a suitable support farmer, who then makes contact by phone. Calls are usually around an hour, and further calls can be arranged.

“It’s not always the person who is struggling that reaches out; it can be their spouse, or a concerned colleague.”

Alongside mental health, business, animal health, pasture and feed, and farm environment support is available. Farmers can be too embarrassed or ashamed to go to a professional to discuss things they feel might be wasting their time, says Lisa.

“Often a call starts with a stressed or overwhelmed farmer, but after some talking the issue is frequently something physical or quite simple on the farm that they don’t know how to resolve.

“When you’re in that headspace, thinking revolves around making it through to the next day, and sometimes not around logic and forward planning.

“A good chat with someone can lead to solutions.”

Lisa’s dairy farming knowledge has assisted people solve various problems. However, if she feels that the support required is beyond her level of experience, she will recommend a professional, or refer back to Dairy Connect to find someone with more knowledge on the issue.

After experiencing a tough couple of years on their last farm, and Lisa realising Hamish was slipping downhill again, the pair decided to retire from farming after 25-plus years.

Lisa has restarted her real estate career in Cambridge, and Hamish is fuelling his lifelong passion for large vehicles by driving trucks.

Lisa is aware that it won’t be too long before new systems, machinery and methods will supersede her farming knowledge.

“Then it will be time to move on from my support role, but in the meantime if a conversation with someone saves a life, then I will keep going for as long as I have something to offer.”

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