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Leaning on one another - Communities the best step to tackling youth mental illness

April 1, 2014
By Emma Osman

When close-knit communities like Motueka face challenges, they step up to the plate and hold together for those who need it most, providing an open-minded outlet for expression as well as nurturing future generations and finding hope.

Motueka is home to a vibrant community of residents with much to offer, which continues to find various ways to help young adolescents and children who might be at risk or vulnerable in sensitive circumstances - something which, on reflection, I wish I had when going through a dark and difficult patch in life.

Although my own troubled past was a confusing tension between individual adversity, unstable family life and an increasing frustration and disillusionment with the immediate world around me - perhaps my own experiences with inner turmoil would have been lessened had I known that there were people to talk to and confide in, who would open up a dialogue and help provide alternative perspectives and cognitive techniques to serve as coping mechanisms.

Though I still wrestle with my demons, I eventually overcame my darkness - but I often question how many people out there continue to feel as I once felt, too scared, too shamed, and too exhausted to take that first courageous step and begin to disentangle and expose, grinding through the worst of the pain before the healing process begins.

Our Contemporary Challenge

Though we now have mental health week and supportive social media, a wider range of medications and treatments available, and are distancing ourselves immensely from the draconic days of Bedlam or the cold, cruel institutions of Ken Kesey only a few decades ago, the ugly truth about mental health remains.

It is constantly torn between an endemic of over-diagnoses and over-medicating, and a severely detrimental lack of resources for those who really need treatment.

And even for increasingly problematic disorders such as bulimia, self-harming, drug abuse and suicide along with numerous others - there is almost a sense of sordid romanticism, where young, talented individuals cave to the brutal pressures of body image in a celebrity-obsessed society.

Even for those who are more open-minded about these issues, for most individuals and families to open up a discussion about their problems there exist considerable personal, cultural, and social barriers; even in 2014, mental illness is seen as a weakness - and given the troubling statistics in recent years of youth suicides in New Zealand, this is a rising crisis which needs a progressive intervention now.

In the way we portray the crumbled lives of people falling part portrayed in the media, to the sensationalism of the myth which surrounds the so-called line between genius and mad person, and the gender, orientation, or race-appropriated illnesses which are sunken in their own stereotypes or pushed to the side, the greatest challenge lies in the ability and willingness to address a person's needs openly and effectively rather than treating people under medical categories across the board.

Caring and compassion always goes a long way - but what can communities, as a rule, do to help our youth feel safer? How can we develop a culture of caring where these challenges are not seen as failures, but situations which can be worked through collectively?

Strength in Numbers

This is where the community plays a critical role, where the best work can be done on the grass-roots level. These aren't just the region-wide groups who can give visibility to minorities and provide a sense of closeness which may be lost within their own immediate surroundings, where isolation and even rejection occurs - but in the simple acknowledgement of a neighbour or friend.

Motueka is a shining example of this, with a rich array of youth clubs, and other social functions which pack a busy calendar and cultivate a deep love for the arts, environment, and historical legacy.

Here is where foundations are laid for building a successful future, learning technical and social skills as well as making friends for life - and most importantly, getting a chance to shine and be heard.

Within these groups, children and adolescents have the rare opportunity to open up a discussion outside of the classroom, and feel comfortable with themselves, as well as investing in local outreach programs.

Keeping these events on the priority list for the community is one of many essential ways to ensure that future generations can finally tackle the topic that everyone wants to talk about, but who are too afraid to tread - and more importantly, let people know that they have a voice. Please visit Motueka's list of resources available to help not only youths but those from all walks of life - where help is available, and hope is never far away.

Comment by Sean Delany,
Kaupapa Maori Community Support Mental Health Worker, Te Hauora-o-Te Awhina Marae
[Posted 9 April 2014]

Teenaa koe e David korua ko Emma. A well-written article filled with insight and obvious experience. As I work in this field, I am being drawn towards our rangatahi and am open to helping we/I can. Keep up the good work.

Comment by Matt Beech
[Posted 13 April 2014]

It's quite likely that more and more people, young as well as old are searching for genuine meaning with reliable substance! A good article.

Comment by Gina Wallace
[Posted 19 April 2014]

A heart warming article Emma.
Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosed 2012
Sponsor: Mental Health Foundation Mindfulness in Schools programme

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