Fay McQueen-Mikaere has spent a lifetime watching those close to her struggle with mental illness.

"I've seen people hang themselves, I've seen people cut off their fingers because it's too hard to get the help."

When she was a child, Ms McQueen-Mikaere says mental illness was common in her family, and she remembers seeing her aunties in mental health institutions.

"As a child, I grew up around the stigma of being called mad, you got a mad family, they're mad."

Ms McQueen Mikaere shared her story at a recent "Like Minds, Like Mine" workshop in Whitianga. Like Minds, Like Mine is a Government funded initiative to reach people who are struggling with mental health problems.

Aaron Wooley is the Service Coordinator for Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki, and runs the programme in the Thames-Coromandel and Hauraki District.

"We have a unique project that's making a huge difference right through the country at grassroots level, teaching people and helping reduce stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness."

But in smaller communities, workshop facilitator Annette Mackie says people are scared to reach out for help - afraid of the backlash and stigma.

"One of the hardest thing is, people get afraid to ask for help because a lot of the time people from the general community haven't wanted to include people who have experiences of mental illness and have a very much a mind view of 'NIMBY' - not in my backyard, we don't want you here, you bring down the value of our properties."

For Whitianga resident, Ms McQueen-Mikaere believes one solution is to break the barriers and start conversations at home.

"What do we do, where do we go, how do we get help now, where's the voice for the people. because I think the most important thing, is being Maori, he tangata tangata he tangata, that means that it is people, it is people, it is people that are important."

The workshop facilitators hope more people will make the most of their forums around the Waikato over the next month.

Where to get help:

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

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• 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)

• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

• Samaritans 0800 726 666

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

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