• Liam Tracey

Mental Health Awareness Week

Updated: Oct 7

This Monday, September 21st, marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness week here in New Zealand. And since 2020 being quite a challenging year for most of us, this coming week it quite timely and looks to engage Kiwis in a big way: nearly 10,000 workplaces, communities, whānau, and schools are preparing to Reimagine Wellbeing Together – He Tirohanga Anamata. So what is it all about? 


The awareness week is marked annually across 150 countries, its inaugural year in Aotearoa was in 1993 through the Mental Health Foundation and is endorsed by the World Federation for mental health. It’s aim is always to shine a light on the illnesses which often go unseen, unchecked and unnoticed. Mental health is more than simply the absence of a mental illness, it includes how you feel about yourself and how you respond and adjust to events in everyday life. It often serves as a reminder for us to check in on our own mental health, or that of others. Connecting with friends and family, finding out what is happening with them and how they are doing, beyond their physical wellbeing. 


However, this year’s theme is ‘Reimagine Wellbeing Together’ and is looking to engage everyone, not just the 1 in 5 Kiwis who are suffering from a mental health condition each year. Mental Health Foundation (MHF) chief executive Shaun Robinson says “Wellbeing is for everyone and isn’t just for people who’ve experienced mental illness. sometimes our sense of wellbeing might feel strong, sometimes not, and that’s OK.” Shaun explains that acknowledging that everyone goes through ups and downs is a big part of the aim this year. “We want to learn more about the simple, everyday things you’ve done this year to look after yourself and your whanau.” 



Inspired by the Māori health model, Te Whare Tapa Whā, there are daily themes to the week which address different aspects of wellbeing. Mental Health Foundation development specialist Thomas Strickland explains the part that spiritual, physical, emotional and mental health play in our wellbeing. “When all these things are in balance, including taha whānau (family and friends) and the whenua (land, foundation and nature) we thrive. When one or more of these is out of balance, our wellbeing is impacted”


The daily theme on Monday is Whānau, ‘recharge with others’. Recognising that being together and the benefits of caring for each other creates a strong connection and bond that will benefit everyone’s wellbeing is a large part of maintaining positive mental health. Sharing stories with friends about what you did to make it through lockdown (one or two) or recounting memories of time with family and how they make you feel will give others an opportunity to learn from you. And open ears to what others have to share will do the same for you.


In previous years, the Department of Conservation have played their part in the awareness week, organising events and endorsing a connection to the outdoors and nature. With so many amazing wild and natural places in New Zealand for people to visit and enjoy, the Mental Health Foundation partners DOC with the ‘Healthy Nature Health People’ initiative. Personal experiences and connection with nature on a regular basis provide powerful benefits for people's health and wellbeing, as well as the physical health benefits. There is a rich body of evidence to show that connecting with nature improves concentration, emotional functioning as well as buffering against stress and lowering cortisol levels (that fight or flight response). With it significantly enhancing our wellbeing and reducing the prevalence of anxiety and depression, why not get out in a local reserve next Wednesday as part of the ‘return to nature’?


Twenty twenty hasn’t been easy, with many of us having to reconsider the experiences, actions and surroundings that bring us a sense of positivity, safety and wellbeing. Mental Health Awareness Week, and it’s focus on connecting with others, is timed perfectly! It is an excellent opportunity for us to redefine and rediscover what wellbeing looks and feels like, whether that is during lockdown levels, COVID-19-affected Aotearoa or beyond. Read more about mindfulness and anxiety here.