FIONA CASSIE talks to SUE TURNER, manager of Canterbury’s All Right? wellbeing initiative, about one small silver lining of the quakes – people’s awareness of their own mental health – and how All Right? is helping people restore and maintain their personal wellbeing.
A series of devastating earthquakes is a pretty violent way of shaking a community into realising that mental health matters.
But it does bring home to people the importance of their mental wellbeing when their usual resilience ‘buffer’ is worn thin by ongoing aftershocks, insurance wrangles and coping with the ‘new normal’.
Sue Turner says the quakes have provided public health and mental health sectors with a ‘silver lining’ opportunity to focus on mental wellbeing.
“People have suddenly recognised that they have mental health as well as physical health,” says Turner. “It takes something like a crisis for people to recognise that and feel okay about it.”
Turner is manager of the All Right? wellbeing initiative that is led by the Canterbury District Health board and the Mental Health Foundation and funded by the Ministry of Health.
All Right? was launched in Canterbury in February 2013 with a series of posters and advertisements popping up all over the city telling people: “It’s All Right?…” to feel frustrated, to feel lucky, to feel overwhelmed, to feel proud of how they’ve coped or to feel blue; in fact, acknowledging all the wide-ranging emotions that Cantabrians felt and can continue to feel on the post-quake emotional rollercoaster.
That initial campaign has been followed up by a range of other initiatives built on the Five Ways to Wellbeing (see next page) and guided by both international research and regular ‘taking the pulse’ research on how Cantabrians are feeling about their city and their lives (see more at www.allright.co.nz). A key to the campaign has been the eye-catching, quirky and feel-good posters, postcards and advertisements created by hometown advertising agency, Make.
Turner says although the destigmatisation of mental health had already begun with the work of the Mental Health Foundation and people such as Sir John Kirwan talking about depression, the quakes had sped up the process.
“Because in New Zealand (in the past) it’s been a bit of a ‘no-no’ topic to talk about your mental health because you don’t want people to think you’re ‘mental’,” says Turner. “Now we’ve got lots of people in the same boat all talking about it.”
The quakes accentuated the need of the population of an entire metropolitan city and the surrounding region to stop and ask whether they and others were All Right? and the realisation that if they weren’t All Right? they were far from alone. For some that meant seeking clinical help, for many others it meant trying to take a little more care of themselves and each other.
Turner says a main take-home message of All Right? is to recognise the things you can’t control in your life and the things you can.
“And what you can control on a day-by-day basis are the little things that support your wellbeing.”
“We are often very focused on our physical health – making sure that we get exercise, nutrition and all that kind of stuff,” adds Turner. “This (the All Right? initiative) is just a reminder that we need to do the same thing for our heads.”
Recovery from both the infrastructural and psychosocial impacts of disasters on the scale of the Canterbury quakes, however, takes time.
“I remember we laughed at the beginning when people said this recovery could take 10 to 15 years. We said ‘What? You must be joking, that’s a ridiculous amount of time!’ but now we all believe it,” says Turner.
The one silver lining may be that people will continue to take their own mental wellbeing seriously beyond the recovery time.
Turner says other organisations are also keen to use the All Right? resources for campaigns in their communities to help people cope with the normal ups and downs of life. So Christchurch may just be able to give something back, which is pretty ‘all right’. :