Mental health is increasingly in the spotlight and it is no different in the Central Otago and the Queenstown Lakes districts. So what is being done to address issues affecting our people? Aspen Bruce reports.

Issues mentioned by respondents in the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s Quality of Life Report raise the same questions.

‘‘I wonder if people know when they should access mental health support. How bad do you have to feel before you talk to someone? It’s such a Kiwi thing to say ‘I am OK, I am doing good’ — I wonder if people know how to self-check their mental health?’’

The report revealed 31% identified associated stigma, shame and fear as barriers to accessing mental health services and support in 2020.

Since then local businesses and community groups have become proactive about implementing practices and business models that destigmatise mental health conversations.

Challenging the stigma…Bryce Dunlop (left) and Glen Thurston (right) from Dunlop Builders are doing their part to break the silence and stigma surrounding mental health in the construction industry. PHOTO: ASPEN BRUCE

Managing director Bryce Dunlop acknowledged mental health training within the team had been prioritised through Mates in Construction programmes.

‘‘We teach our team to identify stress, anxiety and depression in themselves and others, and give them the tools to know what to do about it. Our team have all completed Mates in Construction Suicide Awareness Training and we have four ‘Connectors’ across our site,’’ he said.

Statistics from University of Otago research revealed on average 53 people within construction had taken their own lives each year since 2017.

To highlight this, Dunlop Builders employee Glen Thurston will be hiking Corner Peak consecutively for 53 days from December 1.

‘‘It’s time to crank up the conversation surrounding mental health, break the silence, break the stigma and make some noise about mental health in construction,’’ Mr Thurston said on his website, Turn the Corner.

Mates in Construction senior field officer Slade McFarland acknowledged that mental health challenges within construction were not new.

‘‘It’s always been there and we’ve never talked about it. We talk a great game about safety, but when it comes to mental health, it’s behind closed doors,’’ Mr McFarland said.

Mates In Construction hosts on›site trainings, focused on equipping construction staff with the skills to navigate unfamiliar conversations.

These conversations are referred to as ‘‘invitations’’ and are based on observing behavioural shifts.

‘‘Sometimes we know our work colleagues better than our own families. We may notice a change in behaviour on one day, but when there’s changes in behaviour over a period of time that’s when we need to invite these kind of conversations,’’ Mr McFarland said.

Dunlop Builders won the 2021 Site Safe’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Award on April 6.

Beyond the construction industry, community groups providing emotional education have been initiated.

After Covid-19 related events, Anna Dorsey was inspired to co-found Southern Wellbeing Trust.

‘‘I was motivated to take action after seeing first› hand the huge impact that Covid-19 had on our community’s collective mental health and wellbeing.

‘‘Because of my background in public health, I knew that there was so much more we could do at a local level to help people to stay well, build support for mental wellbeing and empower our community members to support each other through times of stress,’’ Ms Dorsey said.

Since May 2021, the trust has delivered 31 mental health education workshops to 220 participants across Queenstown and Wanaka.

Feedback showed participants felt empowered and equipped with the skills to talk to friends, family or someone in their workplace if they felt worried.

Ms Dorsey said half the attendees were from migrant communities.

‘‘It’s great to see that this programme is effective in bringing mental health education to people from diverse cultural backgrounds.’’

On June 30, from 1pm-4pm, one of its free mental health workshops for small businesses will be hosted at B Effect Brewing company in Wanaka.

Extending wider, the Central Otago Creative Wellbeing programme was launched in February, with weekly creative sessions being held in Wanaka, Cromwell and Alexandra.

The programme offers a safe space for anyone facing isolation or mental health challenges.

The sessions are facilitated by peer support worker Fiona Fairbairn and art worker Janie Shaw and include a variety of art-based activities.

‘‘We started the group in February, so we have been running for 15 weeks. We do a different creative activity every week from postcards to pottery, collaging and water colouring. It’s for people that might be struggling with their mental wellbeing or isolated at home,’’ Ms Fairbairn said.

The Central Otago Creative Wellbeing programmes are held every week between 2pm-4.30pm at the Wanaka Community Hub (Tuesday), Cromwell Arts and Crafts Centre (Wednesday) and Alexandra Community House (Thursday).

On June 10, Central Otago REAP announced a new initiative, ‘‘Counsellors in Schools’’, which will provide educational support and assistance to rural communities.

Schools participating include Millers Flat, Roxburgh Area School, Poolburn School, Omakau School, The Terrace School, Alexandra Primary School, Clyde Primary School and St Gerard’s School.

The Central Lakes Trust confirmed in May a $30,000 annual grant for the next two years to support the programme.

Last week the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) announced a new five›bed mental health crisis respite care facility in Dunedin was due to open in September.

The SDHB also has plans to increase crisis support options in Queenstown, Central Otago and Waitaki.