Mental health conversations urged

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by Greta Yeoman

Starting conversations concerning mental health is a good early intervention technique, a Timaru-based mental health advocate says.

Greg Hussey, who runs “pyschological first aid” courses through Pro+Med (NZ), says he encourages participants to take time to listen to what someone is telling them and assess the situation about a person’s risk to themselves or other people.

He talked to The Courier last week following the preliminary report by the chief coroner that estimates 685 New Zealanders died by suicide between July 2018 and June this year.

Mr Hussey referred to work by mental health adviser and suicide survivor Graham Roper, who started a psychological first aid programme several years ago to get companies and staff talking with each other about mental health.

In a statement last year, Mr Roper said that “decades of not talking about mental health have not worked”.

Where to get help

If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider.

For professional support in Timaru, the South Canterbury District Health Board’s Kensington Centre offers a range of mental health services, including an in-patient ward and counselling services, that people can either self-refer themselves to, or access with a GP referral.

The AMPSS 101 drop-in centre is a peer-support mental health and addictions service based in Church St, which is open from 10am to 4pm from Monday to Friday for those over 18 and does not require a referral.

However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

Or if you need to talk to someone else:

0800 543-354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)

https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline

Youthline: 0800 376-633

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)

Kidsline: 0800 543-754 (available 24/7)

Whatsup: 0800 942-8787 (1pm to 11pm)

Depression Helpline: 0800 111-757 or TEXT 4202

“There has been a lot of focus on talking to people, but little to no talking with people.”

It was a message that Mr Hussey echoed, saying, despite all the “awareness” campaigns, people had no idea how to approach the topic.

He said, many years ago, he had watched a family member go through a long period of depression and eventually attempt suicide, but felt so guilty for many years about not knowing how to discuss the topic.

“I had no idea how totally incapacitating [depression] was . . . and I didn’t know how to talk about it.”

After dealing with his own experiences of mental health issues, he started running the courses for businesses and community groups to become comfortable about having the “hard conversations”.

So often following a suicide, people would say they “didn’t see it coming”, Mr Hussey said.

That was often why mental distress could be difficult to understand without the “hard conversations”, as people were “not walking around with their head in a dark cloud”, he said.

However, Mr Hussey said he believed intervention by friends, family and colleagues by talking to people at the “early stages” would help people speak about what they were going through before they reached a crisis stage.

One way of figuring out if you or someone else was dealing with depression or other mental health issues, rather than simply feeling “sad” about something, was analysing the situation, Mr Hussey said.

“[Is it] a normal reaction to an abnormal event, or an abnormal reaction to a normal event?”

He said while “awareness” of mental health issues was good, conversations with friends and family members were vital to support someone early on.

New Zealand society was a hard culture, both in people being hard on themselves and on those around them, Mr Hussey said.

This had to change before the stigma could truly be broken – particularly concerning other mental health issues other than depression, he said.

It is estimated close to 10,000 New Zealanders attempted suicide every year.

The country’s suicide rate reached 685 deaths between July 2018 and June this year – and 75 of them were in June this year alone.

Mr Hussey said it was also estimated that while 75% of those who died by suicide in New Zealand were male, 75% of those who attempted suicide were female.

The loss of a sense of community, “radical individualism”, work pressures and people’s need to have a good social status all contributed to feelings of worthlessness, he said.

“I had no idea how
totally incapacitating
[depression] was . . .
and I didn’t know how to talk about it.”

Mr Hussey mentioned that suicide and mental health issues were becoming a huge issue in the fire service, because of the traumatic incidents firefighters dealt with.

Mr Hussey’s programme, Pro+Med (NZ), has begun to be taught to groups of year 13 high school pupils in Timaru. He said the school leavers were at a mature enough age to deal with the topics and it was also a vital time for them to properly understand mental illness.

“[The end of high school is a time when] the stigma is getting concreted,” he said.

Mr Hussey said it was important for people of any age to be brave about broaching the topic of how a friend or family member was feeling and also for the other person to be honest about answering the question.