The Inside Word

host Jehan Casinader says learning to like himself has been the most important and difficult lesson in his quest for mental wellbeing.

1 Why are you so keen to talk about mental health?

Growing up in Lower Hutt I was bullied a lot; for being brown, for wearing the wrong clothes and being useless at sport - mostly verbal but some physical. I remember a pivotal moment at age 5, standing in the playground talking to a girl who said to me: "Are you brown because you don't shower?" That started a narrative in my head that I wasn't good enough, that I wasn't worthy of other people's love.

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2 Do you think New Zealand school culture places too much emphasis on sport?

It used to. We have such a simple, old-fashioned idea of masculinity in this country; that rugged, rugby playing, beer-drinking, stoic, man-standing-on-a-hill-with-a-spade. That's not reflective of me or a lot of men I respect. Sadly, a lot of boys in this country are really struggling to work out who they are and express themselves in healthy ways.

3 What does masculinity mean to you?

Character. My dad has the strongest character of anyone I know. He was a journalist in Sri Lanka forced to flee during the civil war when many of his close colleagues were being tortured and assassinated. I was brought up with a strong Christian faith in a household where we had vigorous debates around the dinner table about issues like social justice. Our parents raised us with a strong service ethic; that it's important to be generous with your time and resources to help others.

4 Why did you decide to make your six-part TV series The Inside Word, now on TVNZ On Demand?

I'm keen to create spaces for young people to have real conversations about stuff they're dealing with and dig a little deeper. I got a grant from the Mental Health Foundation and made it in my spare time over about six months while working on Sunday. It works well on demand because each episode covers a different topic from cyber bullying and body image to booze and teen parenting. Some people may only be interested in one or two of those topics.

5 Have you ever experienced a period of being mentally unwell and how did you deal with it?

Yes, I have been depressed. The worst time was the year I moved to Auckland at age 26. Work was incredibly stressful and I was away from my usual support networks. I felt isolated and doubted myself a lot. I cried a lot that year.

6 What helped you most?

A counsellor has helped me work through a number of issues over the past two years. I've learned to be kinder to myself by doing acceptance and commitment therapy. I realised I'd spent my entire life hating myself, partly because of my childhood experiences but also because I'd tied up most of my self-esteem with my work. I've had to come to terms with the fact that my job is something I do - it's not who I am. I need to stop working so hard and find some balance, which doesn't come naturally. Learning to be ok with myself has been a huge challenge; being able to sit alone and be comfortable in my own thoughts. I've got better but I'm not there yet.

7 Have you learnt any techniques for doing that?

I've been trying to carve out time to do that. One of the problems for my generation is we're constantly distracted. I've deleted all the social media apps from my phone and turned off notifications for work emails. I still check them at regular intervals but not every spare moment. It's crazy, but this is what's radical in 2018. Having a best friend that I can really talk to has also been a significant help.

8 Why are male friendships important?

A lot of men really struggle to talk. Guys need to get better about doing friendship and being there for each other. The conversations that guys have with each other are quite unique. They're direct, unfiltered and they can be quite funny, even if they're about serious topics. I've been really lucky to have a best mate, Tommy, who I can be honest, vulnerable and 100 per cent myself with. We'll text message most days and get together once a week for a drink or a meal and debrief on our experiences, hopes and dreams. Everyone deserves to have a best mate who can look after them.

9 Why is there still stigma about counselling?

Going to counselling doesn't mean that you're weak or that you're broken. I see it as maintenance; the same way people see a personal trainer to look after their body, it's a good idea to see a counsellor to look after your mind. I've learned practical skills like how to breathe properly; how to notice my thoughts and realise they don't control me - I can observe them and let them pass like leaves in a stream. There's nothing kooky about that stuff, it actually works.

10 Should we be banning our kids from using social media?

No, but we should educate them on the impact of social media on their mental health. I believe we are experiencing an authenticity crisis. Social media has made us believe a number of lies; for example I have 1000 friends on Facebook but that doesn't mean I have 1000 friends in real life. Social media makes us believe we're sharing our lives with other people, when actually it's just a highlights reel we've constructed to tell a particular story.

11 You've spent nine years on TV1's Close Up, Seven Sharp and Sunday programmes. How did you make your break in television?

When I was 13 I wanted to do a story about Lord of the Rings so I rang the Holmes show and they said, "Sure". I covered the election for Tearaway and at 16 wrote my first investigative article for the NZ Herald. At 17 I had a weekly segment on Breakfast about youth issues. It was really hard to get a full-time job at TVNZ. Some bitter senior journalists didn't like the fact an unqualified teenager was getting air time but I had great bosses willing to give me a shot. Social issues have always been my main interest. I started my career doing stories about topics like sex abuse and mental health that were deeply unfashionable 10 years ago so there were definitely some lonely moments.

12 Have New Zealanders got better at talking about mental health?

Ten years ago we could never have had a whole show dedicated to mental health issues. John Kirwan got the ball rolling but Mike King's work over the past five years has been the game changer. Unfortunately we still have a really binary understanding of mental health; that people are either mentally well or unwell but as with physical health, it's on a spectrum. We all have difficult experiences like stress, loss, and grief to process. We need to normalise these conversations rather than trying to put people into one of those two boxes.

tvnz.co.nz/shows/the-inside-word
Where to get help:

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