Sometimes, people with experience of mental illness get a bad rap.
Media stories often talk about them, not with them. The media, especially in stories about the mental health system, can portray them as unpredictable and off-the-wall, or even worse, as violent and dangerous perpetrators.
#RadNotBad shares real stories from real New Zealanders who have lived through mental illness and navigated the mental health system. Their stories show that these negative stereotypes and myths aren’t true, and that the mental health system isn’t that scary.
Read their stories below (freshly released each week) to find out why people with mental illness are rad, not bad.
“I couldn’t talk about my mental illness until a few years ago. Now I talk about it as freely as I would about what’s for dinner."
Justine King-Hudson is a 24-year-old Cantabrian studying for a Bachelors degree in Social Health and Wellbeing.
Half Māori half Pākehā, she has been in contact with mental health services since she was 13.
“I spent so many years feeling ashamed and not talking about it. I didn’t know anyone with mental illness. Being unapologetic about who you are is really healing.”
Toni’s first experience with the mental health system was after the birth of her second child. She was 25. It was 1991. She went to her doctor wearing leather pants, where she’d ordinarily wear pearls and a twin-set – a sign something was wrong.
She was overwhelmed and struggling. Her doctor diagnosed her with postnatal depression.
Shaun Robinson first experienced depression and insomnia in high school. His inability to sleep and the length of his depressed phases worsened over the next 10 years.
The stigma he felt meant he didn’t reach out for help until he was in the depths of what he describes as darkness.
“I thought I should sort this out myself. I thought it would be weak to accept what was going on.”
Performance poet and writer Daniel Goodwin was halfway through his studies at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts when he was mugged in a park. Afterwards, he experienced psychosis for the first time.
“I went to London thinking I would study representations of queer theatre, and after three months I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Things change right.”
His experience with the UK mental health system was “pretty horrendous really”. He remembers seeing a doctor every couple of weeks for seven minutes at a time. Because of the time pressure on services, intense and invasive questions would be asked, leaving little time to digest or respond to them.
When Kelly, a Samoan and Niuean New Zealander, was a young teenager, she had her first experience of anxiety.
Now 31, she remembers how frightened and confused she was. “I didn’t know what it was at the time. It was just little things, like my eyes would shake if I got into trouble, or I’d get heart palpitations.”
At 13, Kelly attempted suicide.
“Instead of getting treatment, I got a hiding. That’s a very Pacific thing. We’re Christians and you don’t do that – that’s considered the biggest sin.
“So that was the end of it, but it never really went away.”
Nazarene Garmonsway first experienced psychosis in 2015.
The third-year, part Māori neuroscience student was walking through a Couplands bakery parking lot when she was overcome by an intense feeling that her body wasn’t hers and she wasn’t safe in it.
“It was incredibly frightening,” she says.
Nazarene, who had lived with social anxiety for nine years, began to experience extreme paranoia, hallucinations and delusions. She had been in an abusive relationship for six months.
“I think about all the reasons why I didn’t want to open up.
“The biggest one for me was I was always afraid people would change the way they treated me - I didn’t want someone being nice to me just because I had a mental health issue. I wanted people to be real around me.”
23-year-old Caleb Ihaia works as a plumber in Auckland.
He first experienced mental distress in his last few years at high school.
Erin is 36 years old and works at the Mental Health Foundation.
Her first experience with the mental health system was when she was 15. Her parents had just separated and she had noticeably lost a lot of weight. Her school counsellor asked her mum to take her to a GP, who prescribed her Prozac for depression and disordered eating and referred her to a psychologist.
“Because I've always leaned towards the depressive sort of side, they always treated it as depression,” she says.