Hugh Norriss: Cantabrians 'feeling emotionally exhausted'

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Christchurch has changed since the February 22, 2011 earthquakes. Life is tough for the more than 500,000 Cantabrians living through a recovery process that has been more difficult and drawn-out than many could have anticipated.

READ MORE: Forgotten victims: The hidden toll of the Christchurch earthquakes

Understandably, some Cantabrians are feeling emotionally exhausted and worn out and are finding it hard to cope.

The earthquakes - especially the devastating one and also the more than 15,000 aftershocks that have become part of life for many in Christchurch - have left their mark on the community's mental health.

It is part of the human experience that we will all face tough times - from earthquakes to the deaths of people we love, from job losses to major illness.

This can leave us feeling helpless, as though we have no control over our lives.

Some people are especially vulnerable and need extra help and support.

When life feels like it's too much, some people may feel suicidal. Many people have experienced these feelings and have found a way through. As individuals, families, whanau, colleagues and communities, we must know what warning signs to look out for and what to do when we spot them.

Often, people who are thinking about taking their own life will try to let someone know, but won't say so directly.

Warning signs include:

• Expressing a wish to die or kill themselves.

• Accessing things they could use to hurt themselves.

• Isolation or withdrawing from family, whanau and friends.

• Not coping with problems they are experiencing.

• Changes in mood - becoming depressed, angry or enraged.

• Feeling worthless, guilty or ashamed.

• Feeling hopeless.

• Using drugs or alcohol to cope.

• Sleeping more or less than usual.

• Loss of interest in life and the things they used to enjoy.

• Giving away possessions or paying off debts.

• Suddenly seeming calm or happy after a period of feeling depressed or suicidal.

If you notice these signs or you think someone you know may be suicidal, ask them. It could save their life. Some people may not show these signs, or try to hide what they're going through, so trust your instincts.

Listen without judgment, take them seriously and help them to find and access support from people they trust.

If they're in crisis, don't leave them alone. Stay with them while you call their GP, their local mental health crisis team or - if they are in immediate danger - 111.

There is help and there is hope. We have all been amazed at the incredible strength of Cantabrians, by the stories of communities pulling together and building a new Christchurch that is stronger, more resilient and more optimistic than ever.

While recovery is complex and dynamic, with many people experiencing times when they feel neither strong nor resilient, it is encouraging that research for All Right? has shown most Cantabrians see lots of opportunities for the future, have a clearer sense of what's important to them and value the people in their lives more than ever. This is something to celebrate and build on.

There are things everyone can do to support and nurture mental health and wellbeing that can be surprisingly effective.

How do we do this? Try to do the things you enjoy - things that make your life meaningful.

Sharing stories of hope can be very powerful and inspiring for those who might have lost their belief that recovery is possible.

Contribute to your community in whatever way you can. As we've seen, even something as small as putting flowers in a road cone is not only a touching tribute to those who lost their lives in the earthquakes, but brightens the days of passersby and commuters stuck in traffic and makes a real difference.

We all have a role to play in encouraging and supporting each other to improve wellbeing.

We recommend practising the Five Ways to Wellbeing - give, keep learning, connect, take notice and be active - because they are simple strategies that have been proven to increase our wellbeing and give us the skills we need to overcome difficulties.

These life skills should be taught in schools, workplaces, sports clubs and churches so that we have some protection when we face tough times.

Programmes such as the All Right? campaign are doing a wonderful job of spreading messages of hope and recovery, as well as reminding Cantabrians that it's all right to be fed up, tired and overwhelmed, and it's definitely all right to ask for help.

The team at All Right? have done an incredible job supporting and improving Cantabrians' mental health and wellbeing as they recover and rebuild.

With continued kindness and empathy for each other, and a commitment to improving the mental health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders, I am confident we can go from strength to strength and build a society where all people flourish.

Information about suicide prevention (including helping yourself or someone you know and coping with suicide bereavement) can be found at www.mentalhealth.org.nz/suicideprevention

Where to get help

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Canterbury Support Line: 0800 777 846
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- NZ Herald

Hugh Norriss is chief executive of Mental Health Foundation.

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