National | Mental Health

‘Teaching coping mechanisms is the best way to help rangatahi struggling with mental health’ - Mea Motu

Thousands of people around the motu are celebrating Gumboot Friday today to raise money for I Am Hope to provide free counselling to rangatahi.

Charity ambassador and world super bantamweight boxing champion Mea Motu spent the day at her old school, Glen Eden Intermediate in Auckland, talking to students about her story about the importance of asking for help.

“I’ve been through it, but, also, my children have been through it. I have a 10-year-old son, who has wanted to commit suicide, so I totally understand it. Even I’ve been in that dark place at a very young age, I wanted to give up,” she says.

Motu is a mother of five and says she has learned that teaching her children tools and strategies to deal with stress is the most effective way to help them when they’re struggling mentally.

“Don’t growl at them but give them the coping mechanisms and the tools of how to cope and how to deal. Just give them strategies. That’s what parents are lacking. They’re just throwing them in the room and taking things, confiscating. It doesn’t work. Giving them tools and coping mechanisms works for our children.”

One of the best ways Motu has supported her own children during their mental health struggles is by allowing them to embrace their emotions whether they are happy, stressed or sad. Since there is a stigma that it can be considered taboo for men to cry, Motu has taught her son that it is okay for him to cry.

“Finding the courage to speak… Take your children to an uncomfortable place so they can understand that it’s okay. I can share my knowledge too and [understand] what they’re going through.”

I Am Hope also has advice for parents to help their children by encouraging parents to validate their children’s feelings and listen without lecturing.

“Don’t try to talk your teen out of his or her depression, even if his or her feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Simply acknowledge the pain and sadness he or she is feeling. If you don’t, he or she will feel like you don’t take his or her emotions seriously,” I Am Hope says in a resource for parents.

“Resist any urge to criticise or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. Avoid offering unsolicited advice or ultimatums as well.”

Supporting students with mental health issues ranked top issue

A survey by the NZ Council for Educational Research shows that supporting vulnerable students, including those with mental health issues, is the top-ranking issue facing schools.

A new survey shows supporting students with mental health problems is a key issue for New Zealand secondary schools.

The survey, by the NZ Council for Educational Research, said while the issue was a concern, ”it was pleasing to see nearly all principals indicated that their school had well-embedded plans and processes for identifying and acting on students’ social or mental health concerns.”

Motu says, “I’m so proud that the principals and all that want to get behind and support our children and the biggest focus is mental health because it is. That’s where the struggle is today and we need to start being stronger for our children and paving the way for our kids.”

I Am Hope provides 3400 sessions a month for rangatahi, at a cost of around $500,000, but with an obvious lack of government funding, today is their biggest fundraising day of the year. They are collecting donations here.

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.