It’s hard to imagine that behind the wide smile, bright eyes and amazing mop of dark brown curls sitting across from me, is a young man who in recent years has struggled with his own mental health.
For Caleb Ihaia though it is a reality. Despite chatting confidently and articulately today about his recent experiences walking the Inca Trail, to raise awareness and funds for the Mental Health Foundation. It is a far cry from the way he felt, five years ago, isolated from friends, away from home, halfway into his first year at University, and on a downward spiral into a mental health crisis.
“I felt anxious all the time, and I was having trouble with my self-confidence, thinking people didn’t like me and that whatever I would say would be wrong and that people would judge me for it. I stopped attending classes and hanging out or talking to my friends.”
Due to the sheer size of Universities, at first no one noticed, and Caleb kept it to himself not wanting to worry his family. Eventually, however, the counsellor at his residential hall noticed his absences and visited him a few times to talk things through. Caleb also visited his G.P and was prescribed anti- depression medication.
Things didn’t improve and Caleb found himself in a crisis at rock bottom when lack of sleep, deepening anxieties and insufficient nutrients, led him to be in a situation contemplating taking his own life.
“Everything felt like it was pushing down on me, everything I did or said that I had ever regretted would spin around in circles in my mind. I looked in the mirror and I didn't see anyone worth caring about. Despite being surrounded by people who loved me, cared for me and valued me, all I could think of was how I'd failed them and myself. How I had given up on having a future. I felt empty.”
Fortunately, something stopped Caleb from acting on his thoughts, but he knew he needed to reach out for help, for support and it was time to go home.
Back home in Pukekohe, Caleb was enveloped by a cocoon of love and support from family and friends who made sure he got the help and care he needed. Access to counselling and support agencies was swiftly organised and ensured Caleb was able to rebalance himself, and with the help of adjusted medication embark on rebuilding his mental health.
It took a while, but Caleb began to feel more positive and happier. He returned to study, but this time in a far more hands-on role, as an apprentice for his Dad’s plumbing business where he is about to complete his second year. The work is varied, and Caleb enjoys the camaraderie within the team.
Caleb’s journey back to full mental health has seen him learn many things about himself and he has found he is able to listen and offer a unique level of understanding to others experiencing similar issues.
“Being in high school and the transition to the adult world is fraught with all sorts of pressures for young people to negotiate. Some breeze through and for some its not so easy. Being able to open up and talk to someone about how you are really feeling can mean so much sometimes. Mental Health is no different from any other illness, sometimes it just needs TLC, sometimes medication is needed to fix you up.”
Caleb realised how lucky he was to have such a supportive network around him and was aware that the resources he was able to access were not as accessible to everyone in our community. Much has been made in recent years at a nationwide level about the funding levels available to organisations that support mental health and Caleb has become involved in raising funds for the Mental Health Foundation.
His recent trek across the famed Inca trail in Peru saw him raise over $7000 for the foundation and allowed him to face and conquer many personal challenges on the journey. The ancient civilisation and rugged terrain a constant reminder of the obstacles to overcome when addressing mental health issues.
“We camped under the stars, walked all day in thin air that made it hard to breathe sometimes, through areas of great need and yet filled with people who were all smiling with what they had. The views at the top were amazing, and the friendships I made with others who had their own journeys to complete, incredible. It reminded me of how far I have come and keeps me focussed on keeping well and wanting to help others who are still finding it hard.”
Suicide statistics in New Zealand are at record levels, with a 2.5% increase to the year ending June 2019 compared to the previous year. More people lost their lives to suicide (685) than in car accidents (377) and men continue to dominate the statistics. The current Government identifies it as an area of priority and is expected to continue to work on areas to improve services for New Zealanders in the area of mental health.
For Caleb though, he just wants to keep sharing his story and his struggles and giving voice to those who have come to him with their own stories.
“Everyone is different, but communication and sharing are such an important part of feeling good about ourselves if we are feeling down. I’ve been at rock bottom, but I have been able to with help and support focus on the good things that are happening to me, and if just one person can find some hope by reading my story and reaches out to someone they can trust, then it means we are starting to make a difference, to make sure everyone has great mental health. I will be forever grateful for the help and support I have been given and I want to repay that by helping others.”
WHERE TO GET HELP:
- 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
- Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
- Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or online chat
- Samaritans – 0800 726 666
- Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
- What's Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.
- Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.
- thelowdown.co.nz – or email email@example.com or free text 5626
- Anxiety New Zealand - 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
- Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
- Supporting Families in Mental Illness - 0800 732 825