Mental health advocate Hunter Lee Kawana is on a mission to help others affected by sexual assault or other mental health challenges.
Over the weekend the 22-year-old from Ngāi Tahu was one of six influential Māori speakers who shared their stories to inspire others at the RealTalk event in Nelson.
In her speech, Hunter talked about how she was sexually assaulted at the age of 14 by her partner.
“When it did happen to me I was in denial for so long because he was my boyfriend. It was slightly different from your standard sexual assault or what people believe is your standard sexual assault,” Hunter says.
The experience later led to mental health challenges including depression and anxiety.
“Depression itself is such a hard thing to go through, especially at a young age,” Hunter says.
At the peak of her depression she was 18.
“I went through a suicide attempt. That was definitely the biggest wake-up call for myself and also my family.”
She says the support of her family, a psychiatrist, and a therapist helped her start her healing journey.
“Being able to speak to somebody and also my loving and caring family was definitely the biggest help.”
Hunter is a makeup artist and Instagram blogger. She uses her social media platform to raise awareness about mental health.
“I try my hardest over my social media to be my true, authentic self whether that’s me crying, me laughing, sharing good times and bad times because at the end of the day no one’s life is perfect and I think it’s really important that we show that over social media.”
Telling her story to at least 200 people on Saturday was her first time sharing it to a live audience and she did such a great job that she received a standing ovation.
“I was a little bit nervous. I won’t lie but it was amazing, honestly. It’s a feeling you can’t describe unless you’ve been through it yourself," she says.
“I felt so comfortable just being able to stand there and talk to actual faces versus a phone screen if that makes sense. It was amazing, an unforgettable experience.”
She hopes that her story can inspire others to ask for help if they are going through similar struggles.
“It’s okay to ask for help. That’s the most important thing and I know a lot of people say that in this day in age but it’s so true. There are always people around you that love and care for you whether it’s family, friends, a therapist, anybody.”
She also advises people to be themselves.
“For so long I hid behind a mask and when I was actually able to open up and express how I was feeling and show my emotions, that’s when the biggest help started coming in,” she says.
If you need help or are concerned about someone who may need help, contact Lifeline 0800 543 354, or the Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 TAUTOKO.