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Wednesday, 27 March 2019 04:19 pm

Untold mental health stories win awards

Oct 30th, 2008 | By | Category: Latest News, News

ABOVE: Awards winners (from left) Jo Randerson, Jessica Le Bas, Debbie Hagar and Halina Ogonowska-Coates listen to Valerie Bos from the Mental Health Foundation at the Media Grants Awards.

Working with media to change perceptions

IVAN YEO remembers his family hiring a Chinese priest to cleanse away his “bad spirits”.

Mr Yeo’s story features in a new archive of interviews with people living with, and recovering from, mental illness, collected by Radio New Zealand veteran Halina Ogonowska-Coates.

She is one of four recipients of inaugural media grants funded by the Mental Health Foundation and Like Minds, Like Mine, with other winners making film, poetry and art.

The finished projects – each awarded up to $12,000 – were presented to an appreciative audience at the New Dowse in Lower Hutt last week.

Funders felt the money had been well-spent.

“Arts and media can reach people, can push the boundaries of thinking,” says Judi Clements, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation.

The awards are a chance to promote social inclusion for people living with mental health difficulties, “upbeat as well as a challenge”.

Daryl Bishop, chief executive at Like Minds, Like Mine, agrees the awards try to work with the media to change the way mental health is presented, and says the award winners all produced work to tell stories that would not normally be told.

The radio archive organised by Ms Ogonowska-Coates (left), of Christchurch, has interviewees telling their stories about how mental illness affected their lives, their families, their relationships, and their employment.

“It’s narrative stories that fire me up – it’s a way to underpin the issues,” she says.  “Each story has a power of its own.”

Ivan Yeo and Murray Cameron were at the New Dowse to describe their experiences of mental illness and recovery.

Aucklander Mr Yeo says mental health services were vital for his health.

“I really want to bring Like Minds to the Chinese community,” he says. “It’s helped me, this gay, unhappy Chinese Malaysian person, to be okay.”

The second grant was awarded to Debbie Hagar (right), chair of the Auckland-based Homeworks Trust, which she set up to help women victims of domestic violence with mental health problems.

“The abuse that some women experience drives them to use drugs or alcohol,” she says.  “Women said to me, ‘he drove me mad’.”

She created a short film based on the experiences of these women, who she says often fall between gaps in services because people do not know how to respond.

“Women have trusted me with their stories. They’ve trusted me that if they give me their stories, something will change for other women.”

The film, “He Drove Me Mad”, showed women trying to get help from different places, but being dismissed for being “crazy”.

It brought the loudest applause of the day after being watched in complete silence and bringing many members of the audience to tears.

Published poet Jessica Le Bas (right), of Nelson, used her grant to write a book of poems telling the story of her daughter, who has lived with mental illness since she was thirteen.

“Walking to Africa,” to be published in 2010, spans six years. “Mental health isn’t something you finish,” says Ms Le Bas.

“I hope it’s an insight for families, who I believe face hard work.”

A fourth grant went towards an art exhibition, already seen by thousands of visitors to the New Dowse in the past four months, “My House Surrounded By A Thousand Suns”.

The curator, Wellingtonian freelance performer Jo Randerson (below, with two of the artists from the exhibition), wanted to celebrate the different ways she believes people who live with mental health difficulties see the world.

“Diverse thought is so essential for our society’s development,” she says.

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is a student journo who loves to write. Her interests, apart from media slavery, include social justice, music, sports and gardening. Preferably a combination of all four. She doesn't know yet what she wants to be when she grows up.
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