When Psa was first detected in Te Puke two years ago, no one anticipated the impact it would have on the mental health of kiwifruit growers left struggling in its wake.
This month, a national awareness campaign titled When Life's a Bitch was launched, encouraging farmers and rural workers to ask for help if they found themselves facing stress, depression, anxiety or other mental health ailments.
The latest Statistics New Zealand figures show suicide rates are higher in rural areas at 16 per 100,000 people, compared with 11.2 for every 100,000 people living in cities.
Federated Farmers health and safety spokeswoman and campaign co-ordinator Jeanette Maxwell said financial stress faced by many kiwifruit growers, particularly in the Western Bay of Plenty, was a huge factor in declining mental health.
"Looking at your kiwifruit orchards being decimated, it's this kind of stress that actually tips people over the edge."
Ms Maxwell said the barrier preventing many rural workers from getting help was that "no one talks about it".
However, Psa national recovery co-ordinator Ian Greaves said they had been overwhelmed with the number of growers voluntarily asking for help.
With money from an adverse effect fund, Mr Greaves helped arrange industry-wide counselling, grower discussion groups and other support avenues. They have been in hot demand.
"Towards the end of last year, from October we ran a series of 25 different events like roadshows, growers meetings etc, and we had about 300 growers attend through this," Mr Greaves said.
"So the message is getting out there, and it's always the same - that you are not alone. Look after yourself, your family and others."
Mr Greaves said an evening where they brought in celebrity psychologist Nigel Latta to talk to growers struggling through Psa attracted 800 people, and the 20 discussion groups held in the Bay were garnering increased interest.
But there was still a way to go - and it was no longer worth growers holding on to the tough Kiwi bloke stereotype, he said.
"They've got to get over it.
"We've tried to normalise the fact of stress and talking about suicide prevention. If you are overwhelmed, then talk to someone."
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated president Neil Trebilco said the organisation recognised many growers were struggling and, in response, it was especially active in providing assistance. This included issuing stress indicator checklists on which growers could gauge dangerous stress levels.
"If growers realise this is stressful, we are just people at the end of the day and we need to look after our health. It's okay to go to the doctor if you are having trouble coping. I'd encourage growers to do it, if things are getting on top of them."
Peter Ombler, chairman-elect of Kiwifruit Vine Health, said it was doing what it could to support people "because you can't change what is".
"We are trying to paint a realistic picture and the biggest thing you can do is give them hope where it's sensible. You don't want people left in a dark space where they don't need to be."
'It's absolutely critical to have support'
Going to the doctors was the hardest thing Ross Bawden had ever had to do - but the Pukehina kiwifruit grower knew he needed help.
Over time, depression had crept up on Mr Bawden to such a point that he experienced moments of "total helplessness" in which he felt he had no control over what happened.
Mr Bawden has spoken out because he believes there are other growers struggling with the same thing. It was important for growers to know they were not alone, he said.
It took 12 months of suffering before Mr Bawden summoned enough courage and confidence to go to the doctor's.
"You can't believe how hard it is to do that unless you're there. For ladies, it's probably all right but us guys, we are not that way inclined. Not long after Psa came, I was doing a spraying job and there was a mishap with the trailer and tractor. I jack-knifed ... it all got on top of me."
The incident sparked an episode where Mr Bawden was so upset he lost any coherent, logical train of thought. In the midst of the episode, he ran over his $1500 helmet for no apparent reason.
He said he hated to think of what else he would have done if his wife had not brought him round with a cup of tea - a step the couple have perfected in times of stress to prevent Mr Bawden slipping further into a downward spiral.
These days, Mr Bawden joins an industry discussion group every 6-8 weeks.
"More often than not, there are others going through the same thing. And when you have these huge problems, if you don't share them you convince yourself that you are the only person with the problem, and it's a downward spiral from there," Mr Bawden said.
"It's absolutely critical to have support and on a number of levels."
Mrs Bawden described her husband's demeanour in his worst moments as "totally helpless, totally powerless" and she did what she could by helping him talk about it.
More growers needed to do the same, she said.
HELP AT HAND
http://www.kvh.org.nz/grower - support
Depression Helpline, 8am to 12am, seven days a week: 0800 111 757
Healthline: 0800 611 116