'Take time to kōrero': Mental Health Awareness Week to create positive change in Kiwis' mental wellbeing

'Take time to kōrero': Mental Health Awareness Week to create positive change in Kiwis' mental wellbeing
Photo credit: Getty Images

"Get it off your chest, you'll feel better": It's a phrase we've all heard, or even said to a friend, family member or colleague. 

And while these big chats are important, it's our everyday conversations that can make a huge difference to our mental health and wellbeing in the long run. 

This year's Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) is about creating a positive change in Kiwis' mental health and wellbeing by connecting with the people in our lives and creating space to have these important conversations. 

Mā te kōrero, ka ora - through conversation, comes wellbeing

Mental Health Foundation (MHF) chief executive Shaun Robinson says the theme for this year's MHAW was chosen "because the little, everyday conversations we have are surprisingly important and they make a big difference to our mental health, especially as Kiwis navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19". 

Having ongoing conversations with friends and whānau about mental health is important to ensure we're building lifelong connections and showing that we care about one another. 

One way we can work towards creating a more positive conversation around mental health is "by thinking – and talking – about mental health as something we all have", he says. 

"It's something we all need to look after and invest in, and our wellbeing can't wait. We can't fall into the trap of thinking that it's too big for us to tackle – improving our mental health isn't just for the Government and health services to fix (although they absolutely play a big role in it). 

"We need to look after each other and learn about what makes us feel good."

'Take time to kōrero': Mental Health Awareness Week to create positive change in Kiwis' mental wellbeing
Photo credit: Getty Images

It's especially important to have these conversations during COVID, a time that Robinson says "has undoubtedly been challenging for our mental health". 

"This most recent lockdown has been harder than others for many of us," he says. 

"At the moment, it's more important than ever to find things that bring us joy, to connect with the people we love and find ways to feel hopeful about the future – even if it's just building small things into our week to look forward to, like a Zoom game night with friends or a yummy treat after dinner."

For those who are struggling, Robinson suggests "reach out to someone you trust". 

"A little chat can go a long way, and it's especially appropriate for you right now. It might be a good time to book an appointment with your GP, or call a helpline to talk through how you're feeling".

A 2020 report on Mental Health in Aotearoa published by the Health Promotion Agency found "mental distress is highest amongst young people (15 to 24-year-olds) and the proportion of New Zealanders with high levels of mental distress is trending upwards over time". 

Findings from the report also highlight ongoing support is needed for younger Kiwis' mental health and wellbeing. So, whether it's checking in with a friend or family member, having a kōrero over some kai or saying hello to a stranger can go a long way. 

Take time to kōrero

During this year's MHAW Kiwis are encouraged to take note of everyday conversations that make them feel good and to do it more often. Over time, they can lead to creating meaningful connections and help us understand each other better. 

It's also important to know who we can count on when times are tough or a bit more challenging. "We don't need to be face to face to feel the benefits of a kōrero," says Robinson.

'Take time to kōrero': Mental Health Awareness Week to create positive change in Kiwis' mental wellbeing
Photo credit: Getty Images

 "Reaching out is especially important if there's someone in your life who's going through a tough time and may need some extra tautoko/support."

He adds it's important to remember that thanks to technology, "we can all take time to kōrero, no matter what alert level we're in". 

"We encourage Aucklanders to check in with their friends, whānau, colleagues, iwi or community often, whether it's on the phone, a quick text or via video call."

Starting on September 27, Kiwis will have the opportunity to take time to kōrero in a different way by engaging in daily prompts that centred around conversation and connection.

  • Monday: Reconnect with someone you care about

  • Tuesday: Get outside in nature with someone

  • Wednesday: Have a kōrero about Te Whare Tapa Whā

  • Thursday: Connect through kindness

  • Friday: Come together and reflect

"Whether it's reconnecting with someone or getting outside in nature for a chat, each day we'll be putting out a different prompt, with an accompanying list of activity ideas that everyone can get involved in whether they're at home, work or school," Robinson says. 

Our team of five million has worked hard during this time to support each other, but it shouldn't stop there. Check in with each other during challenging times and don't be afraid to prioritise self-care time for yourself. 

"We want to remind Kiwis to be kind to themselves and each other, and to acknowledge that we've been through something difficult," he says. "There are also things you could try to help yourself feel a bit better, small things that might feel too simple but are proven to boost your mood and help restore your mental health and wellbeing. 

"Try out Five Ways to Wellbeing and try to do them every day – they really work!" 

Is enough being done to help Kiwis' mental health and wellbeing?

Robinson says the MHF is hopeful to see the launch of Kia Manawanui, the Government's 10-year plan for mental health as it means "Aotearoa is on the right path to improving the mental health and wellbeing of New Zealand". 

"We have been critical of the time it has taken to get this plan into place, and want to see swift implementation of the plan from here," he adds. 

"New Zealanders deserve improved mental healthcare now. We have a dedicated, skilled mental health workforce but they have been under-resourced and in need of further support for some time. We are hopeful this can change."

For more details on the daily prompts, check out the downloadable MHAW Guide or follow along during the week via social media channels and the mhaw.nz website.

Where to find help and support: 

  • Need to talk? (Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor)

  • Lifeline (0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE)

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

  • Samaritans (0800 726 666)

This article was created for the Mental Health Foundation.