HE AHA TE MEA NUI O TE AO? HE TANGATA, HE TANGATA, HE TANGATA. What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

Highest youth suicide rates in the OECD
Mental disorders are the third biggest health problem for New Zealanders
One in five New Zealanders will experience depression by age 18



As New Zealand wakes up to the enormity of the mental health issue, more and more of us are finding the will to tell our stories.

It started with celebrities coming forward to begin the process of raising awareness around an issue likely to affect one in five of us by the age of 18.

As royal princes, rugby heroes and music icons stepped up to start the conversation, ordinary New Zealanders started finding their voice too.

"YOU JUST HAVE TO MEET THE PEOPLE" is the result of a three week diversity reporting project undertaken by Whitireia Journalism students.

This multi-media, interactive long read looks to confront the elephants in the room:


Putting people at the heart of the story, the seven-person news team talked to those affected, the carers, and the people with the power to put it right.

He tangata, He tangata, He tangata. He aha te mea nui o te ao. The most important thing, it's the people.

Photo right: Courtney Day. Artist Natasha George.

Helping blow away the blues, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex take an opportunity to talk mental health with young Kiwis at a Lyall Bay cafe.


Expensive counselling sessions, stress and heartache were all part of Melissa Lama’s mental health journey.

But if she knew her final destination was sharing cake with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, she says she would have saved a lot of money on counselling.

Melissa was one of the select few to discuss mental health and youth leadership with the visiting royal couple while they shared morning tea at Lyall Bay's Maranui Cafe.

She is a founder of the Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation Trust which focuses on breeding hope while connecting people to the necessary services.

Being invited to talk with the royals was a ‘pinch me’ moment for Melissa whose work stems from her own experiences with mental health.

“I just didn’t see any other opportunity after being a young mum and so I had a moment when I sat there (today) and I kind of felt really emotional.”

Melissa, who is from Christchurch and studying at Otago University, said the Duke and Duchess were authentic people who cared.

“When I was asked to introduce myself I said I’m just a young mum, a Pacific young mum and the Duchess goes ‘you’re not just a mum’.”

Both the Duke and Duchess were supportive of Melissa’s strength in advocating for mental health.

“When Harry walked past he was so sweet and put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘just keep up the good work and just keep talking’.”

Andrew Slater head of the National Telehealth service was also inside Maranui cafe participating in the coffee meeting.

He says the Duke and Duchess bringing attention to issues such as mental health is helping conversation around a topic that is sometimes seen as taboo.

“I think some of the messages and reframing that they’ve done over the last few days is going to help communities respond differently and improve acceptance and reduce stigma.”

Video, story and photo: Leah Tebbutt

Young Kiwis who joined the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Wellington's Maranui Cafe to talk about mental health issues. From left, Andrew Sutherland, Caitlin Timmo, Petazae Thoms.
Matt Petuie: You just have to meet the people.


Matt Petuie, the man behind the title of this story, 'You just have to meet the people', has been working in the area of whanau support for more than 20 years both here and in the UK.

Currently he is the purposeful activity leader at Wellington's Compassion Soup Kitchen where he mixes daily with the homeless and those in mental distress.

Matt Petuie says there is a lot of fear around both homelessness and mental health, resulting in stigmas, and discrimination.

“Once you have met the people you realise they are just people and it is really easy to respond to it.”

He couldn't be prouder of the Soup Kitchen's Te Mara (garden), funded by Wellington City Council and constructed alongside the kitchen in April.

He says it has brought a sense of purpose to those who use the kitchen.

Around 110 people a day attend the kitchen for nourishment and activities like a spot of digging in Te Mara.

Matt says challenging and improving people’s mental health starts with making sure these people have a purpose in the community which gives them hope for the future

"When people see that [Te mara] they don’t see someone who is homeless, they see a person, an amazing person," he says.

"They are sick of being on benefits and having no money.

“They want work and they want to make their own way and stand on their own two feet and be proud of themselves,” he says.

Mayor Justin Lester says Wellington City Council is working on a number of initiatives to tackle key principles of giving people something to do, a sense of self-importance and self-worth.

The mayor couldn't be specific around current and future projects in the city.

Story and photo: Nikita Rawnsley-Wratt

Dr Gudrun Frerichs (photo supplied)


Society’s ideas about what someone with a mental illness is, and what they are capable of doing often keeps them from achieving the most basic things in life.

Finding a job or even getting medical care can be difficult, says Dr Gudrun Frerichs.

Story: Bonnie Mosen

“When you use the suicide word, the conversation goes dead.” Victoria Roberts.


Victoria Roberts

Victoria lost a child to suicide in 2000.

It took her 15 years to stop blaming herself.

Now an advocate for mental health, she says it’s time we stop hiding behind the stigma of mental illness and start seriously talking.

“My son shouldn’t have died. He wasn’t treated right, and he didn’t get the services he needed.”

The Ministry of Social Development says New Zealand has the highest suicide rates in the OECD.

And for the family of a suicide victim society’s reaction can be almost as painful as the death of their loved one.

Victoria says people don’t want to talk about suicide.

“When you use the word, the conversation goes dead.”

In her advocacy work, she’s found it isn’t just discussing suicide that’s taboo.

It’s mental illness itself.

“Why shouldn’t it be a topic we can talk about in a sensitive way in the right time and place,” she says.

“Why should a mental illness be any different from a broken leg.”

She says the issue was recently demonstrated when the National party leader announced an MP was taking a leave from Parliament for an embarrassing issue.

“It obviously wasn’t a broken leg or heart attack,” Victoria says.

“It makes them sound like something is intrinsically wrong with them and that’s why they made mistakes, because they are unstable or unpredictable.”

Victoria is looking forward to the government’s mental health inquiry due out later this month.

“I’ve met with the panel three times, and I’m quite optimistic they have a handle on what’s not working.”

She’s hoping for a complete alteration of mental health services.

Story: Bonnie Mosen. Photos: Courtney Day, Bonnie Mosen

"It's all about manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga and whanaungatanga." Ezekial Raui.


As the founder of Tu Kotahi, a suicide prevention programme, Ezekiel Raui is all too familiar with the disproportionate suicide statistics of Māori and men.

Māori make up 21.3% of all those who died by suicide in the last year, but they make up 15% of the population.

Ezekiel (Te Rarawa, Cook Islands) says the embedded mentality of ‘what it means to be a man’ is a mentality that needs to change.

His household environment was a place where he could share his feelings and reset, but Ezekiel acknowledges within te ao Māori, the staunch male mentality inhibits that.

“So breaking that down and showing them that importance of being vulnerable. That everyone is vulnerable and making mistakes is okay.

“What matters is that you learn from those mistakes, you talk about them and you move forward from them.”

Realising that changing attitude is a long battle, Ezekiel reminds himself and others to not get frustrated.

The result of environment and influences are individual, working consistently to support those suffering is how the mindset will begin to shift he says.

“One of the big things when we are talking about stigma is trying to understand, that is similar to the saying, that Rome wasn’t built in a day and mentality is not going to change overnight.”

Te ao Māori sees someone as an individual and understands that their problems or what they are going through are specific to them, he says.

When dissecting Māori concepts around mental health, Ezekiel says it all focuses on allowing yourself to understand the other person.

“To me what we are referring to is manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga, whanaungatanga and all of those in a sense talk about building a relationship with someone.”

He says big organisations or governments find it easy to blanket approach.

Story and Photo: Leah Tebbutt

It's time for an uncomfortable but necessary conversation. Melissa Lama.


Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation Trust is empowering youth to navigate the bicultural world of European and Pacific culture.

Members of the Pacific community are finding it hard to speak honestly about mental illness, while the movement of breaking the stigma is prevalent in the mainstream environment.

Co-founder, Melissa Lama is pushing for the dialogue to quickly change, to keep up with the rest of the world.

Melissa says in Pacific culture, they are raised to speak only when they are told making it hard for her to feel comfortable talking about mental health.

Story and photo: Leah Tebbutt

Reporter Molly Hancock walks us back in time to a place most of us never knew existed.


Wellington’s extravagant Government House stands on the site where Mt View “Lunatic Asylum” once was.

The contrast between the current grand buildings and what once stood there is striking.

The main buildings of the asylum were located on what now is the front lawn of Government House, next to a pole proudly flying the New Zealand flag.

The asylum held patients with a range of mental illnesses and disabilities, many of which visitors centre coordinator Heather Mills says would not be cause for institutionalisation today.

Not much of Mt View still stands, a building now used for visitors centre offices and the “Convicts Wall”, as well as some brick pathways leading to the tennis court.

The wall was made from brick constructed by convicts at Mt Cook Prison, and the arrow shaped mark of the prisoners work is still visible on the bricks today.

Heather says during the asylums life attitudes towards mental illness were vastly different to how they are today.

People were more willing to commit people with manageable mental illnesses to psychiatric institutions, such as people suffering from alcoholism, PTSD, and learning disabilities.

This was due to huge stigmatisation and fear of unknown from the general public, something that has improved but still exists today.

The planning and construction of Mt View reflected small moves towards acceptance of mental illness compared to older institutions.

The asylum implemented fresh air, exercise and useful occupation as an aid for mental health.

This change showed a transition in the stigma around psychiatric patients in the late 1800’s as people began to see mental illness less as a scary, incurable disease, and more as a treatable condition.

Despite boasting slightly more modern treatments than New Zealand’s original mental health facilities, asylums in the 1800’s including Mt View were not known for scientific practices.

Dr T Gray, a British-trained psychiatrist said his experience of New Zealand asylums in the early 20th century was an “almost complete divorcement of psychiatry from general medicine”, according to Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Photos: Molly Hancock

Story and photos: Molly Hancock

Porirua Mental Hospital c.1920 - the solution to over crowding problems at Mt View (Photo credit: Pataka Museum Collection, Porirua Library ref A.7.34.)


To solve overcrowding issues at Mt View asylum, construction of a new institution began in Porirua in 1886.

Porirua Hospital came to house 2000 staff and patients by 1900, many of those patients were institutionalised on the grounds of mental illness.

Among those at Porirua Lunatic Asylum, there were people considered mentally ill for being publicly intoxicated, engaging in prostitution, and other things that in the modern day we wouldn’t see as grounds to confine someone to a psych ward.

Staff at the asylum used a number of methods that are today more reminiscent of a horror movie than a hospital.

Restraint jackets, soundproofed seclusion rooms with shutters over the windows, and triple locked doors were all used to keep patients in line.

During the 1942 Wairarapa Earthquakes, the asylum buildings were damaged and the patients had to be relocated.

A number of patients were moved to Chateau Tongariro Hotel on Mount Ruapehu.

The patients had meals cooked by the hotel chef, danced in the ballroom and slept in comfortable beds during their stay at Chateau Tongariro.

The greater social interaction and better treatment led to reports of many patients being cooperative and calm.

So did all these people truly need to be in an asylum? Or were some of them there out of fear and misunderstanding?

The latter is definite, with not only people being institutionalised for public intoxication and prostitution, but also physical mental conditions such as epilepsy.

It’s hard to know from records how many people truly were in need of psychiatric treatment, many are damaged and many diagnoses outdated.

What we can gather from records of Porirua Lunatic Asylum is that the late 1800s to early 1900s is that the misunderstanding and mistreatment of people with mental illnesses was huge, and this is reflected all of New Zealand’s historic mental institutions.

Story: Molly Hancock. Photo: Pataka Museum Collection.

The reality of life in a psych ward laid bare in Clarissa Chandrahassen's award-winning play.


Psych ward, jail cells and forced injections are all part of life and an award-winning play Clarissa Chandrahassen is staging again this month.

In 2010, Clarissa Chandrahassen was committed to the psychiatric ward in Lower Hutt.

Eight years later, Clarissa has an award winning show out of the Fringe Festival that follows her painfully personal journey.

Her journey began with a lab injury resulting in surgery. Clarissa found it hard to eat and sleep, which she believes to be the first trigger for her hypomania.

Her family had their concerns and committed her to the psych ward, but Clarissa thought her reactions were justified and was baffled when she received her diagnosis.

“I thought there were different types of people in the world, some people get mental illness, some people like me, don’t.”

Her view of mental illness then is vastly different to what she holds now, and she admits that stigma was deeply ingrained. Ideas that mental illness did not affect everyday people made her reject diagnosis from doctors.

“Over the next few years I would stop taking the medication, became manic again. More dramatic entries to the hospital each time.”

Dramatic entries such as police escorts. But often police would not know how to cope, and lock her in a jail cell waiting for her to calm down.

However, police being the first interception only added to her mental distress.

“It was like I was sub human, like a lower class of human that I needed to be locked away from someone else,” Clarissa says.

At times her experience in the psychiatric ward was not pleasant.

“When I was manic I was forcibly injected with medication to subdue me. Held down and injected. It was tranquilisers basically. In my manic state I was too disruptive for other patients or medical staff, so it was just medicate, subdue, contain.”

After a period of being hypomanic, a depression would always follow. Clarissa said being hypomanic is a destructive time that affects all of those around you.

Reflecting on that period would bring feelings of guilt.

It was the stage lights of community theatre pulled her out of bed.

“It was really therapeutic for me and I became really into it and passionate about it."

Clarissa’s passion for the stage was born from her time in hospital, where she experienced delusions of grandeur. In some cultures, these delusions are seen as prophetic which Clarissa believes to be true.

“At the time I was telling the medical staff that I am an actor and I was in a play. And they were like, ‘thinks she’s an actor. Deluded. Think she’s a writer’. But it was like the mania brought to the surface the things that I thought were possible for myself.”

Her dream of a lead role eventually came true with her own play.

“After my first day in hospital that's when I decided. It was such a surreal experience, that one week I spent in the psych ward, I was like ‘this is a story, this could be on stage’. I even came up with the name then, it was gonna be called Committed.”

Her season in this year’s Fringe Festival was sold out before the show opened.

Clarissa assumes her experience in the psych ward was the drawcard for some audience members, but her passion to reduce the stigma that she once had motivates her.

“I think most people like to see someone who they can connect with. They want to see their stories reflected on stage. They want to feel validated for what they have been through. Or they just see someone who is being brave and they want to bare witness to that.”

Clarissa realises now that mental health challenges are widespread and can affect anyone. Theatre empowers her because of the number of people she can reach.

She sees theatre as an opportunity to educate people on mental illness because they are able to see the humanity that exists behind the diagnosis.

“By the end of the hour I have shared so much they feel really open and they have gotten to know who I really am and I am not just this label bipolar.”

A second season of Clarissa’s show is on at Bats Theatre.

Story: Leah Tebbutt. Photo: Courtney Day.

Nameeta Gaundar says mental health is a taboo subject within her religion.


When Nameeta experienced a relationship break up at age 19, she began an unexpected journey with many other woman her age into depression.

Figure.nz statistics from June 2017, show woman aged 15-24 are 64% more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men of the same age.

When she was 19 Nameeta Gaundar experienced a relationship break up which she says caused her to become anxious.

Tired and feeling under the weather she began asking herself what was wrong.

She says she knew she needed help was when she started losing her close friends.

“I began to doubt my friendship and doubt my relationships, and I knew everything around me was what I wanted but I just still felt like something was missing.

“Even though there wasn’t, I had everything that I wanted,” she says.

In 2017 she went to the doctor and began weekly therapy sessions which she says give her a routine which helps reduce stress.

“Also just to chill and set myself boundaries instead of living off other people’s expectations, living off what suits me and what makes me feel comfortable to reduce that stress," she says.

“I have a responsibility and it is for me to get better.”

Her Indian culture has made it very difficult to talk about her health issues with her family.

She says, when she told her family about starting therapy they were in denial and told her she must be sick.

Nameeta encourages people to listen, talk more and educate themselves about mental health.

Story, video and photo: Nikita Rawnsley-Wratt

Fiona Moses talks about busting the stigmas within.


“You look at me and probably think physically I don’t look like I’ve been through very much. It’s always been important for me to be resilient and just keep on pushing through.”

Courtney Day talks to Fiona Moses about busting the stigmas within.

Fiona Moses

Fiona Moses is a survivor of the connected issues of domestic violence and mental health.

Her fearlessness and bubbly personality mask her internal scars.

“I came out of broken relationships. I was looking for men who were grounded, instead I found men who were controlling,” she says.

Fiona fell into abusive relationships with two former husbands, before escaping through Women’s Refuge.

They sent her on an eight day trip to Outward Bound, where she became the first woman to receive a scholarship and complete the course.

“When I started going to Women's Refuge, I started to address the issues I had within myself, and so I really began my own mental health journey there.”

She says the eight-day activity camp was life-changing, and the turning point in breaking away from her distress.

Living with intense depression and anxiety, Fiona had 10 years of counselling through Women’s Refuge, where she was able to reflect on her situations.

“I really had to understand the dynamics of domestic violence. There’s physical, sexual, financial, emotional, psychological, and intimidation using the children against you. I’ve had the whole lot.”

Fiona has been married three times.

Story and photos: Courtney Day

Matisse Barnard


Finding the right therapist when you’re mentally ill is no walk in the park says Matisse Barnard.

She says she’s lucky to have found the help she has, but it was a difficult journey.

After her first experiences with counselling led to her feeling like she wasn’t being taken seriously, her faith in mental health professionals wasn’t great.

As a teen Matisse was taken to a counsellor after having panic attack about her appearance.

She felt her feelings were invalidated after being told she was “quite pretty” instead of being offered advice for her anxiety.

Her apprehension towards talking to professionals about mental health grew when a therapist questioned her choice of “revealing” clothes.

She says therapists and doctors making unprofessional comments about mental illness could be a contributing factor to someone not seeking further help.

Negative experiences with mental health professionals show that stigma and ignorance can come from anyone regardless of if they have experience dealing with mental illness, and Matisse says it’s taken her some time to unlearn her own preconceptions.

“Before I had the the opinions of mental illness that I do now, I kind of bought into the myth that people must be really hard done by to have a mental illness. But when we stigmatise mental illness we really just undervalue the power of our own brains,” she says.

Story and photo: Molly Hancock

3.5 million Kiwis spend on average one hour 53 minutes a day on various platforms. Hootsuite.


New Zealanders are being advised to cut down their social media usage in a bid to improve their mental wellbeing.

Clinical psychologist Karen Nimmo says the adverse effects are subtle and dangerous. (Photo supplied)

Karen Nimmo says social media applies a subtle pressure to be better looking, take better holidays, have more money and post cooler photos.

“It can leave you disillusioned when you can’t hit those ideals of beauty and health, and things that you see online,” says the clinical psychologist.

“It doesn’t affect our mental health with a wallop but a subtle turn of the screw,” she says.

Karen Nimmo says the trick to social media is to watch the amount of time you spend on it and to make sure you do other things.

“We’re in a competition that we never really signed on for and even if we don’t care we tend to know what other people are doing," she says.

Story : Nikita Rawnsley-Wratt

Lucy Revill says social media can be directly responsible for mental health.


Lucy Revill

Top Kiwi blogger Lucy Revill, is taking a mental health step back from her keyboard after recognising she is spending too much time on social media.

She says social media can be directly responsible for mental health and because of this she is going to start cutting down the amount of content she publishes.

“We need to be really conscious of the fact that it’s got lots and lots of amazing benefits and can connect you with so many people, but it isn’t a substitute for real life,” she says.

Revill, the writer of The Residents, a blog which focuses on people in Wellington, has been publishing three blogs post a week over three years while running three social media accounts.

The top kiwi blogger was 2017 finalist in the New Zealand Social Media Awards, won an Absolutely Positively Wellingtonian Award and in 2018 was named third in top lifestyle blogs in New Zealand.

Revill says when she isn’t hitting high enough reach or engagement on her posts it upsets her.

“The images that I have been creating, as of late, are my favourite images I have ever created, which doesn’t make sense.

“It’s become a complete game of how much time can you spend liking other people’s hashtags, other people’s photos,” she says.

She says when an account reaches a level of following, the apps are built to get people to pay for further reach and engagement which creates a lot of anxiety for people using these platforms.

“When they start to see a decline in the number of people following them or taking interest in what they are doing, they think that reflects on them,” she says.

She advises if people can’t control their daily usage to get rid of it for a while and reset.

Lucy Revill says this is exactly what she plans to do.

Story and photo: Nikita Rawnsley-Wratt


Eighty percent of Kiwis experiencing mental illness are unemployed according to Workwise, an employment agency working exclusively with job seekers experiencing mental distress.

CEO Warren Elwin says the biggest issue to finding employment is the stigma employers have around hiring people with mental illness.

He says employers sometimes don’t see the mentally ill as people.

Warren Elwin

Story: Nico Hendricks


Acknowledging the issue, is key to success according to Dr Jackie Blue.

So why are only 1/3 of job applicant's reporting their mental health issues?

Equal Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue is telling employers to have the hard conversations. (Photo supplied)

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Blue says stigma and discrimination are major barriers to supporting workers with mental distress.

A 2015 survey by the Ministry of Health found an estimated 17% of New Zealand adults had been diagnosed with a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety.

Just under a third of those experienced mental distress in the four weeks prior to being surveyed.

Dr Blue, a former National MP and physician, says the data is a major indication of a widespread problem.

“We know mental illness and mental health issues are prevalent in the community so it makes sense that you have employees that can understand and can relate, and therefore improve the brand of your organisation,” Dr Blue says.

She says stigma and discrimination are a large factor in why people don’t want to tell their employer or reach out to organisations like the Human Rights Commission for advice.

“There’s a lot of myths around mental illness that need to be demystified.”

Employers fear that an employee with a history of mental distress could be less productive or take more time off, Dr Blue says, and she encourages businesses to discover that this isn’t the case.

She says employers who are willing and equipped to discuss mental illness with their employees will benefit.

“You can’t assume that it’s not in your workplace. It is in your workplace and you need to do something about it. Not because it’s just the right thing to do but it’ll also help your bottom line and productivity."

“It just makes sense that you have a diverse workforce and that includes disability and mental illness.”

“The worst thing for a person with a mental illness is staying at home being isolated, they’re much better off in the workplace being supported.”

“A healthy employee means you’ve got a productive employee.”

Story: Nico Hendricks

“It’s kind of become a dirty word in New Zealand, people joke about having a mental health day.” Ross McMillan.


Taking a mental health day has become a dirty word in New Zealand and some companies are trying to change the conversation for their employees.

For example medical insurance company Medical Assurance Society has renamed sick days as wellbeing days.

Ross McMillan, the organisation’s human resources manager, says wellness days reflect more than physical health.

“One of the things that we particularly wanted to do was remove the stigma attached with people saying that I need a mental day.

“It’s kind of become a dirty word in New Zealand, people joke about having a mental health day,” he says.

He says when somebody is experiencing mental health issues bigger than a rest day it opens up room for conversation.

“In the past, I think in New Zealand it’s often been taboo,” he says.

Story: Nikita Rawnsley-Wratt


Internet auction website TradeMe even has a training session for employees.

Annie Brown chief people officer at Trade Me says they needed to create a workplace where it was okay to talk about mental health.

“Most people don’t know how to respond which makes it difficult for the person who’s going through some trouble to share what is going on,” she says.

“What I do find at Trade Me is that people will just grab me if they think that someone isn’t so good at the moment,” she says.

Trade Me holds a one-day training session on mental health wellbeing to ensure employees have a good understanding.

Nameeta Gaundar who featured earlier in this story, says because she is open about her mental health with her employer she is comfortable asking for a sick day.

“I find I still get guilty about it because I know that not everybody around us can relate,” she says.

Sarah Tuck


When you cut yourself you quickly apply a plaster, but when the distress is invisible how do we heal?

Mental ill health is a big grey area where each individual experience is different and one remedy is not a fix all.

CoLiberate, a mental wellbeing social enterprise, recognised this complexity when dealing with mental health and took it upon themselves to offer mental health first aid certificates to the community.

Co-founder Sarah Tuck says the mental health first aid does not teach participants to be a therapist but is similar to a traditional first aid certificate.

“You’re just intermediate between getting the person in crisis the help they need. Or de-escalating the risk or de-escalating intensity of the situation,” she says.

The two day course dissects four modules around depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance misuse.

Sarah says the conversation tool that is taught through the course is designed to support people in moments of ill health.

Rather than prescribing, participants are taught to find the answers with the person in crisis.

“We’ve seen a confidence level, to be able to recognise and respond to developing mental illness and moments of mental health crisis, rise by at least 60% in each participant by the end of the course, ” she says.

Sarah’s own experience in the course changed her life.

“I have no fear going into any conversation. I could see someone going into the lowest of lows, which is terrifying to see but just have full confidence that I can raise them out of it.”

CoLiberate offered the program to the Police who attended almost 35,000 mental health callouts in the last 12 months.

Sarah believes Police and other organisations that educate themselves on mental health will create invaluable benefits to the community.

She says there is a missing education piece in mainstream schooling but says regardless, conversations around mental health are changing.

“In terms of talking about it, it's an equal amount of people reaching out, to also reaching in. We have to have the emotional awareness enough to be able to recognise when someone isn't okay, and actually make the effort to reach them and ask.” she says.

Story and Photo: Leah Tebbutt

"The ‘toughen up’ culture doesn't serve us well." Marlon Drake.


Kiwis need to stop being macho about mental health if they want to people to start talking about it, especially students.

Victoria University’s student president Marlon Drake is a passionate advocate for student mental health.

He says New Zealand’s cultural values are holding Kiwis back.

“I think it’s the ‘toughen up’ culture.

“It’s being afraid of feeling sad.”

“[These emotions are] very normal parts of the human experience, which we’ve turned away from in New Zealand culture,” Mr Drake says.

He says New Zealand is progressing slowly.

“The common knowledge on campus is that not enough is being done about mental health,”

“There is certainly a pretty negative situation with mental health in our country and especially for the 18-25 bracket, especially for the 18-25 bracket that has moved out of home.”

Victoria University provides mental health services, but with over 22, 000 students they are struggling to meet the overwhelming demand.

Marlon Drake led fellow students in a rally in August to persuade the government to give student health services public funding.

Student representatives have requested help from Green MP Chloe Swarbrick and will be meeting with the Minister of Health David Clark in December.

Mr Drake says the university administration has been listening to students concerns, which helps to shift the culture.

The 21-year-old student head says while progress is being made on campus, there is still reluctance to speak publicly about mental distress.

“Students generally don’t want to speak out too loudly about mental health because it is still quite heavily stigmatised within certain student communities”

“We are really encouraging our students to normalise mental health so that we can speak about our feelings in a really positive way.”

“It’s important to learn those coping mechanisms and learn those self-care skills”

“Counsellors are an amazing way of doing that but there’s also a cultural role that needs to be played.”

Story and photo: Nico Hendricks

Gudren Frerichs: Stigma around mental distress has programmed us to not admit when something is wrong.


Shame prevents many people from seeking help according to psychotherapist Gudren Frerichs.

She says society’s stigma around mental distress has programmed us to not admit when something is wrong.

Gudrun Frerichs says she has seen this frequently with patients, family and friends who often suffer in silence for years.

She says there’s a whole area of education that needs to come outside of mental health services.

Bonnie Mosen reports.

Story: Bonnie Mosen

Alumni founder, Mike Russell says providing rugby players with resources is necessary to help prevent mental distress.


Playing professional rugby with 40,000 people watching, you have to be staunch to win. Then all of a sudden the spotlights go off.

Exposing your weakness on the field will lose you the game, but Hurricanes Alumni are teaching players to leave their staunch attitude at the door when it comes to their mental health.

Past players, James Broadhurst and Reggie Goodes are sharing their experience with mental illness through the Alumni group to encourage other players to speak up.

Alumni founder, Mike Russell says concussion and injury will destroy mental health as well, but providing players with resources is necessary to help prevent mental distress.

Story and Photo: Leah Tebbutt

Dr Sarah Gordon with four degrees and a PhD in psychological medicine, was told at 17 finishing a degree would be impossible after experiencing mental distress.


Dr Sarah Gordon, a senior lecturer at the Otago Medical School says New Zealand was under prepared for rising mental distress and is ill equipped to deal with a situation the World health organisation has been warning about for years.

As Nico Hendricks reports the highly qualified doctor who is no stranger to mental distress, says the answer lies in good leadership.

Story: Nico Hendricks Photo: Nikita Rawnsley-Wratt


The film industry is being told it must shoulder some of the blame for reinforcing stereotypes and stigmas around mental health.

Radio New Zealand film critic Sarah McMullan says actors need to do the research around their mentally distressed characters, because they're misrepresenting what mental health really is.

She says films like Halloween and The Shining are credited for introducing the stereotypical psycho killer to horror movies

Sarah says the movie industry has the influence to change how people see mental distress for better or worse.

Story: Jayden Tamarua

The power of words can affect those suffering mental distress.


A major part of the stigma surrounding mental health is fueled by the language we use around the subject according to psychology expert Dr Sarah Gordon.

The Otago University lecturer says we need to be aware of the power of words and the effect they can have on those suffering mental distress.

In this audio report from Nikita Rawnsley-Wratt Wellington locals were asked to say the first word they think of when they hear words like mental health and diagnosis’ like bipolar.

Story: Nikita Rawnsley-Wratt Photo: Courtney Day

Emily Winwood - doesn't care what others think.


Emily Winwood no longer sees herself as a mental health statistic. The 18-year-old Hutt Valley woman says she doesn't care what others think about her anymore. This is her story.

Video Story and Photo: Courtney Day

Vincents Art Workshop strengthens voice through artistic expression.


Vincents art workshop is a place of acceptance where anyone can find their voice through artistic expression.

Artist Jack Polly was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 21.

He has faced the stigma of people saying he is stupid or crazy.

He says Vincents makes him feel strong, and he can just be himself.

Story: Bonnie Mosen Photos: Molly Hancock

Gareth Edwards uses laughter to promote mental wellness.


Musician Gareth Edwards says giving people living with mental distress a platform to cope with their mental distress is the best way forward.

Gareth is an entertainer, writer, musician and mental health worker who recently completed his North Island Glad to be Mad tour.

His show uses music and audience interaction to promote mental wellness.

The Nelson-based entertainer says he hopes the shift towards better attitudes around mental health will speed up after the Government inquiry into New Zealand’s mental health system.

The results are due on the last day of November.

“The last ten years has seen a shift in policy away from some of the gains we had from the last major mental health inquiry,” Mr Edwards says.

New Zealand had two major inquiries into the mental health system in 1988 and 1996, headed by Judge Ken Mason.

The inquiries resulted in policies for the development of the mental health system.

“In New Zealand we’ve definitely got the right conversation. What I’m looking forward to is have we got more follow-through on that conversation,” Mr Edwards says.

His personal history has given him a perspective.

After completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in artificial intelligence, Mr Edwards realised attempting his PhD during a time of mental distress and suicidal thoughts wasn’t worth his life.

That experience led him to a career in counselling and assisting in designing mental health services for organisations and awareness movements.

Despite Kiwis’ increased awareness, Mr Edwards acknowledges that talking openly about mental health is difficult.

“We’re still waiting for a language to be able to talk about it.

“In the day job, it’s very easy for me to talk about diagnoses, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder myself,” Mr Edwards says.

People with bipolar experience emotions that are sensitive to positive or negative stimulus.

Bipolar is characterised by symptoms of mania, depression or a mix of both and can make interpersonal relationships difficult if left unmanaged.

“That sort of language is very straightforward in the mental health sector, but personally I’ve always struggled with those labels, struggled to find a different way of talking about it.”

Gareth Edwards says the next step is allowing people with mental distress to share their experiences.

“I’m a firm believer in our stories are what changes things,” he says.

“We know from the statistics, one in four of us at any time will be experiencing some challenges and half of us during our lifetime will experience challenges, so there is no us and them. It’s all of us.”

Story and photo: Nico Hendricks

Buzzy Bee at work in Tory Street's community garden Te Mara.


Wellington’s Compassion Soup Kitchen opened it’s urban Te Mara (garden) earlier this year hoping to create a green oasis among the concrete for guests to work in and eat from.

Using outdoor activity to elevate the mental health of their regular guests is not a new concept.

Numerous studies have shown that doing meaningful work, being in direct sunlight, and being around nature have calming effects and improve mental health.

Volunteer gardener Duncan Macgregor says working in the garden also helps his mental health through the sense of community he gets from being around people and working with others.

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection, ” Duncan says, and he has found connection through volunteering in the garden and kitchen.

Duncan says stigma around mental illness is visible throughout society, and most people have preconceived ideas about people who have mental illnesses, particularly conditions such as schizophrenia and substance abuse issues.

“The mental illness is certainly not the sum of the person.

“Some people’s perceptions of it are pretty ignorant perceptions in my mind.”

He says working towards becoming more community minded is a great step towards breaking the stigma around mental illness.

Story and photos: Molly Hancock

“Pigeon-holing people purely because of their mental illness or drug and alcohol use it not helpful at all.” Duncan MacGregor.


Duncan Macgregor was adopted at birth and was longing to find his biological family, but on the way, he turned to the bottle to fill the void in his life.

A popular TED Talk by Johann Hari says the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is human connection.

Duncan Gregory who has abused both alcohol and substances agrees, and says being around people has been beneficial for him.

He was introduced to the Compassion Soup Kitchen eight years ago when he was staying at the night shelter.

“I live alone now, it’s nice coming in and eating with other people, even if it’s only for half an hour a day, it helps my mood,” he says.

When Duncan was 20 he found his original birth certificate and the names of his biological parents.

But his brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the time and Duncan says it took him a couple of years to come to terms with that before going on to find his biological mother.

Finding them and finding they were both ill with schizophrenia was hard to cope with.

“My drug and alcohol use went overboard at that point,” he says.

When Duncan drinks now, he ends up physically and mentally unwell and he will be in a psychotic state for days after consumption.

“I am still trying to wrap my head around it even though I’m 40 years old and I should know better,” he says.

He says, it’s difficult to recover when society looks only at his bad qualities and start making their own preconceived ideas about him.

Duncan began working at Te Māra, the garden at the Compassion Kitchen, and along with others, found purpose tilling the soil.

He says the garden has been beneficial because it gets him out of unhealthy spaces.

Story, video and photo: Nikita Rawnsley-Wratt

This is what 'manning up' looks like according to Wellington man Declan Wilcock.


Nineteen year old Wellingtonian Declan Wilcock is a great advocate of talking about mental distress.

While battling mental distress in his early teenage years Declan says he didn't tell anyone because he didn't want to be treated any differently.

But, older and wiser now, he believes talking about it is what saved him.

He says once people do that, the hardest part is over.

Declan says it begins by actually admitting you need help, even if you're not ready to talk.

Declan found distraction was hugely beneficial in his case and says he would encourage others to look for ways to distract their minds.

Finally, commenting on the Kiwi attitude that sees males of all ages being told to "man up", Declan says he now has his own view on what that looks like.

Story and photo: Jayden Tamarua

Ryan Edwards from men's support group Whirlwind believes in the power of the dinner table when it comes to getting men to talk.


Meanwhile a community group of men in Kapiti is tackling the stigma around talking about mental distress by getting together to share a meal once a month.

Musician Ryan Edwards and Counsellor Martin Sloman launched Whirlwind, a group promoting awareness around men’s mental health issues back in 2011.

Ryan prefers to call the group a community, and sees it’s role as providing a safe space for men to talk about and share problems.

He says men in this country don’t find it easy talking about these things.

“But we’re conditioned to talking at the dinner table,” he says.

The group meets at the High Tide Café and can attract as many as 50 guests.

Whirlwind has been running for over eight years and shows no sign of slowing down.

Musician Ryan Edwards and counsellor Martin Sloman launched Whirlwind, a group promoting awareness around men’s mental health issues back in 2011.

Ryan prefers to call the group a community, and sees it’s role as providing a safe space for men to talk about and share problems.

He says men in this country don’t find it easy talking about these things.

“But we’re conditioned to talking at the dinner table,” he says.

The group meets at the High Tide Café and can attract as many as 50 guests.

Whirlwind has been running for over eight years and shows no sign of slowing down.

Ryan says the group runs itself without him and that’s just fine.

Story and photo: Jayden Tamarua

Barbering tutor Daimon Johnson says things get real in the barber's chair.


Kiwi men are famous at keeping their emotions to themselves but it’s a different story at the barbers shop. Like hairdressers and taxi drivers they hear it all.

Barbering tutor at Te Auaha campus, Daimon Johnson worked in a previous life as a barber in London’s famous Cut Throat Barber shop.

Daimon says in the barber’s chair things are different, people tend to trust you when there’s a blade to their neck.

He says barbers will always be dealing in strangers lives and the challenge for him is trying to teach his students the line between being professional and being a friend.

Story and photo: Jayden Tamarua


We all have that happy place where we find peace and feel safe.

COURTNEY DAY photographed a small group of friends and colleagues in the places they say are good for their mental wellbeing.

One likes to climb walls for fun, another paints. Cooking, playing a guitar, walking in the hills with a dog are all things that take others far away from the mental distress that visits them from time to time.

Natasha George (guitar player and painter) says regardless of whether you are aware of it, there are constantly things affecting your mental health.

She says having a creative outlet is crucial to helping her mental health.

“It’s safe. It’s my visual record of how my mind is going.”

Photos: Courtney Day
Shaun Robinson from the Mental Health Foundation says those in mental distress are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. (Photo credit: Stuff Ltd)


We all experience it as some stage in our lives so why are we all so scared of it?

Experiencing mental distress is part of being human, not the plotline to a horror movie.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson has experienced mental distress himself.

He was diagnosed bipolar after years of trying to develop an understanding of his own mental health.

“Going through times of mental distress is a normal part of being human. Life throws us challenges that can cause us emotional distress just as life throws us physical problems.”

He says despite the Mental Health Foundation publishing information and awareness campaigns, discrimination against people with diagnoses of mental illness still exists.

It’s why Mr Robinson and others are keen to see the results of the Government’s mental health inquiry due out this month.

Shaun Robinson says the inquiry is a rare opportunity to revitalise New Zealand’s mental health system.

“Fundamentally, our response to mental health and wellbeing is very much in the doldrums at the moment.

“We really have no direction at the moment and most of the services are incredibly stretched by growth and demand so everybody is waiting very eagerly for the results of the current inquiry."

He says the press and entertainment media create narratives of people with mental distress being violent criminals.

“The research shows very clearly that people who are experiencing long term mental health problems are much more likely to be the victims of violence and of crime.”

“They’re very vulnerable to being exploited and abused by other people but there’s still this very strong association of fear with mental health problems,” Mr Robinson says.

Mr Robinson is living with bipolar affective disorder, a condition where a person’s mood and emotional state can be changeable and susceptible to positive or negative stimulus.

“Everybody who lives with long term mental health challenges would be very selective about who they share that information with,” says Mr Robinson.

“It’s really only since I’ve been working with the Mental Health Foundation that I’ve been fully open and I decided that if I can’t be fully open in this workplace I can’t be open anywhere.”

While he is open about living with bipolar, he’s selective about what he reveals in social situations due to a fear of discrimination.

Mr Robinson says a lack of understanding leaves people feeling uncomfortable when it comes to talking about mental health, which leads to discriminatory language or behaviour.

Mr Robinson witnessed this discomfort first hand when talking about mental health with someone he’d just met.

“When I talked about my bipolar this person talked about their uncle and said ‘oh we just called him our mad uncle.

“They were very uncomfortable in talking about it and I thought it’s interesting you would think to say that, I wonder what the uncle’s decided to call you.”

“People seem to feel it’s still okay to make a joke of things” Mr Robinson says.

Story: Nico Hendricks

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick leading the charge.


Mental health does not affect one gender, race or socioeconomic group, and therefore cannot be treated as political game, according to Green MP Chloe Swarbrick.

The 24-year-old first time MP is anticipating cross party buy in, prior to the release of the mental health and addictions inquiry this month.

Chloe Swarbrick says there's no single solution that will solve the mental health crisis and therefore the government needs be open to trying different models.

“The way our governments and political systems work is that they’re not primed to try things. Because failure is seen as the worst thing ever and it opens you up for political attacks and this is why I think it is super critical that we have cross party buy in.”

Chloe believes the best way to implement policies around mental health is by supporting the communities working with mental ill health on a daily basis.

“The best thing is to devolve power and that ensures that the resourcing goes to communties who get to decide and have autonomy.”

November 30 is the due date for the release of the findings of THE MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION INQUIRY launched by government earlier this year.

Ron Paterson, the former Health and Disability Commissioner, is leading a six-person team tasked with developing recommendations to improve the mental health and addiction sector.

The recommendations will focus on prevention, intervention and promotion of mental health.

Story and photo: Leah Tebbutt

Whitireia News Team: From left, Bonnie Mosen, Courtney Day, Nikita Rawnsley-Wratt, Nico Hendricks, Jayden Tamarua, Molly Hancock. (Absent Leah Tebbutt.)

8 November 2018


Created with images by rawpixel - "untitled image" • Marvin Meyer - "untitled image"

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