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Survivor: Matt Chisholm on tour to improve rural mental health attitudes

After narrowly avoiding a helicopter crash in the Southern Alps, instead of feeling relieved, TV presenter Matt Chisholm was disappointed.


Struggling with burnout and depression, he found himself wishing the chopper had crashed with him in it.


Despite having a wonderful wife, his dream job in journalism, and his two boys at home, he was miserable.


But looking back at that moment on the mountain, he now realises it was a turning point, and the start of a new chapter in his life.


The charismatic former host of Survivor New Zealand and Celebrity Treasure Island had also held multiple current affairs roles over the years on shows like Close Up, Fair Go and Sunday.


But reeling from burnout and exhaustion, he knew this had to change. He yearned to return to his country roots.


Matt left his job at TVNZ and moved to a 29-hectare property in Central Otago, where he now farms sheep and beef.


He found ways to manage his own mental health, and has since signed up as the inaugural Ambassador for the Rural Support Trust.


As part of that, Matt has embarked on a mission to get more people talking about their own mental health, as part of the Trust’s Time Out Tour, sponsored by ANZ.

The crowd in attendance at the Rural Support Trust's Ashburton Time Out Tour event.

The crowd in attendance at the Rural Support Trust's Ashburton Time Out Tour event.


More than 2300 tickets have been issued for events up and down the country in 2022, with more events planned for next year.


Speaking last month at a well-attended event in Ashburton, Matt said he first realised he was depressed decades ago - after picking up a pamphlet in a doctor’s office while being treated for an STD.


“There were about sixteen boxes - if you have these symptoms, you may be depressed - and I ticked every box,” he said.


“Despite that, I was actually more willing to talk to my doctor about my STD, than about my mental health.”


Matt is an entertaining speaker, with his down-to-earth sense of humour keeping the rural mid-Canterbury crowd smiling - but there are also sombre moments, when he talks about the harsh lessons he has learned.


He’s open about the fact he has struggled with alcohol and drugs, although he has now been sober for 11 years.


Matt spoke of the pressure he felt, growing up, to live up to the ‘Southern Man’ stereotype - the kind of man who never admits to having feelings beyond a deep love for his local rugby team.


That pressure pushed him to drink to excess, and “do stupid things” - with his alcohol abuse leading to a deep sense of self-loathing, and depression.


After realising his childhood dream of getting into TV journalism, and sticking with it for more than a decade, his mental health deteriorated, and work became yet another overwhelming addiction.


“I stopped sleeping and started waking up with huge headaches - I started getting angry at work, even with nice people,” Matt said.


“I had trouble with the basics, I started thinking that my colleagues were stitching me up - I was going mad.


“Useless at home, I’d just sit there angry and wonder why I wasn’t as capable with the kids as my wife - I was trying to be a great dad, and broadcaster, but I was breaking.


“I hated work and I didn’t like being at home, and I’d created a life which didn’t see me be anywhere else."


"I wasn’t getting any joy from anything."

Matt Chisholm - Rural Support Trust Ambassador



He spoke about the death of close friend and fellow broadcaster Greg Boyed, who took his own life in 2018, despite telling Matt he was getting help.


“We told each other that we weren’t going to do anything stupid - Greg told me he was getting help for his depression, I told him I would do the same,” Matt said.


“I thought he was in a better place than me.


“Days later, I picked up my phone and saw a headline pop up - it had ‘Greg’ and ‘Boyed’, and I knew that my mate Greg had killed himself.”


Listen to Matt talk about how he learned to manage his mental health:

Matt has spent a lot of time getting better - learning to forgive and like himself, and becoming a better person.


“Not being OK is surprisingly normal - most of us will go through something in our lives that affects our ability to function mentally - we have to get people to understand that, and create safe spaces for people to open up and share.”


“Now I try to focus on the positive - I appreciate the beauty around me,” he said.


“I’m exercising, learning, connecting with people, giving back, doing all the things I knew I needed to do, but didn’t, because I didn’t give myself a chance.


“Sometimes I still get anxious and think negatively, but now I know what I need to do to look after myself - to catch those negative thoughts and kick them to the kerb.


“I can’t stop them coming into my mind, but I can control how long they stay there for - and you can do that too.”


His main reason for taking part in the Time Out Tour was to encourage more people to put their hand up and ask for help, without feeling ashamed.


“You are more of a man if you ask for help,” he said.


“I also think it’s up to everyone else to look out for each other - if you think someone close to you is a bit off, be brave and ask them how they’re doing.


“If you feel like you’re being fobbed off, ask them again - you do not have to be an expert to listen.”


Find out more about the Time Out Tour here.



Rural Support Trust For a free, confidential chat, call 0800 787 254, 8am-9pm.

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

thelowdown.co.nz – or email team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626


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