AUT Professor of Psychotherapy, Keith Tudor, discusses wellbeing for Mental Health Awareness Week (September 21-27).
Mental Health Awareness Week offers us an opportunity to pause and to take stock of our wellbeing. It is particularly timely as we look back on a year that has been dominated by COVID-19 and the various alert levels we have experienced and are still experiencing.
While wellbeing is personal and individual, it is also social in that it depends on relationships and resources. One useful model, from John Raeburn and Natacha Joubert, is that positive mental health and its promotion comprises both individual resilience and supportive environment. So, for instance, while each of us will have our own strategies for dealing with the demands of work – which, as we know, have been much greater during this current crisis – we also need the support of our environment, which, in this case, is the university.
Although I would say that the idea of “low contact Friday” is a small but good example of a supportive environment, I would hope that, in the spirit of the week, we might take the opportunity to reimagine a university that could be even more supportive of wellbeing – together and, therefore, for all. How do we do this? By talking with rather than talking at; by speaking out and by listening; by having the “courageous conversation” and by having an environment in which it is safe for people to be courageous.
Wellbeing means different things to different people. I was pleased to see that, on its website, the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand (Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora), which organises New Zealand’s annual Mental Health Awareness Week, points to Sir Mason Durie’s model of health, comprising: taha whānau (family and social wellbeing), taha wairua (spiritual wellbeing), taha tinana (physical wellbeing), and taha hinengaro (mental and emotional wellbeing), with whenua (connection to the land and roots), at the heart of it.
I think most people would recognise this as a useful model and know that, for example, if one of our family is not well, then we are not well, or that, if our connection to the land and our roots, old or new, is alienated, then we are not well.
This year, Mental Health Awareness Week follows te wiki o te reo Māori (Māori Language Week) which I think is interesting in that language is a crucial aspect of wellbeing, so I hope that both weeks continue all year. Kia kaha te reo Māori.
Of course, thinking and talking about and reimagining wellbeing also raises the issue of feeling less than well, not so resilient, and living and working in environments that are not supportive. In some ways I think that the challenge of living in the context of COVID-19 has helped people talk not only about change and uncertainty but also about feeling more vulnerable, anxious, angry, depressed, and so on – and that’s no bad thing.
Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui ma kia aroha ki te tangata | Be strong, be brave, be steadfast, and be compassionate. Kia whakamaua kia tīna.
 Raeburn, J., & Joubert, N. (1998). Mental health promotion: People, power and passion. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 1(1), 15-22.