There are many horror stories about mental health and a Whangārei man wants people to know there is also hope and healing — or if healing is too hard a to grasp, then learning how to handle ''the unwellness''.

The Whangārei man can see light at the end of the tunnel of mental illness he's lived in for at least 10 years and he'd been hoping to tell his story during Mental Health Week, this week.

Even though Jono, who preferred his surname was not used, now understands he'd suffered depression possibly since childhood, he didn't realise how bad things were until that tunnel closed around him.

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''I've been diagnosed with depression since I was 20. I started the medication then.

''I was working. I'd studied for a Diploma in Environmental Management at NorthTec, then got a job as a digger driver here in Whangārei.''

Jono bought a block of bush northeast of Whangārei, dreaming of living as environmentally sustainable a life as possible in his sanctuary while working at a job he enjoyed.

He hopped across the Tasman a couple of times but couldn't settle. An underlying ''down'' took the shine off most things, but Jono is driven, and he kept on driving right on through.

Jono says staying on top of mental unwellness is ''about being realistic, recognising the hurdles.'' Photo / Michael Cunningham
Jono says staying on top of mental unwellness is ''about being realistic, recognising the hurdles.'' Photo / Michael Cunningham

He became ''chronically suicidal'' — something often on his mind, but never attempted.

''It was the suicidal thoughts that woke me up. I was living in Auckland when I got really unwell and I was like that for three or four years. In 2009 I started my recovery.''

That meant staying in Dargaville to get help from community-based mental health service provider Arataki Ministries, which also offers services in Whangārei and Maungaturoto.

He returned to Whangārei.

''I had a good nurse in Dargaville, and have another good nurse over here, I've got my medication sorted,'' Jono said.

He speaks articulately and with insight about his situation; he doesn't have an addictive personality so his illness wasn't compounded by non-prescribed drugs or alcohol.

What he's struggled to get over though, was the financial mess he got in.

''The worst, the thing that hurt the most, was because of my unwellness I went bankrupt. My place was sold.

'Words can't describe it. It's not a good feeling.''

Jono isn't back at work yet. He knows he has to build up more resilience before he tackles that mountain. ''It's about being realistic, recognising the hurdles.''

But he has his ''eye on the prize, I know what I want''. There'll be another block of land out there for him. Meanwhile, he continues to learn.

The Government's Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry team was in Whangārei in June to get views on the country's mental health services. The purpose was to identify unmet needs.

''I'm grateful that I went,'' Jono said. ''I didn't voice my own opinion but I listened to other people. There was common thread, and that was how hard it was to get help.

"It's made me aware of how strong you've got to be at a time when it's the hardest for you to be that.

''On my journey it's not that I didn't get help, it's just that it's hard to be in the system, although you do need just the basics [care] just to get by.

''I tell people who need help, you need to be in the system.

''On the whole, I haven't got a bad word to say about anyone who works in that field.

''But, we need to change the stigma, change attitudes, take away that prejudice. Even though people like John Kirwan and Mike King speak out, the problem is still being swept under the carpet.''

And if Jono could say one thing only to someone who needed help?

''Stay strong, eh!''

❏ Need to talk? Free call or text 1737. Lifeline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE).
Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat.
Samaritans 0800 726 666.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, from October 8-14, is ''Let nature in, strengthen your wellbeing – Mā te taiao kia whakapakari tōu oranga''.

Messages during the week will emphasise the Five Steps to Wellbeing — to connect, keep learning, take notice, be active and give.

Workplace mental safety and wellness is also a focus. People who feel their employer cares about their wellbeing are more engaged at work, said Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson.

"The mental wellbeing of your people is one of your most valuable business assets.''

This year, one in five people are likely to experience an anxiety or depressive disorder.

In the last four weeks about 200,000 New Zealand adults experienced some kind of psychological distress, not necessarily diagnosed or requiring treatment.

Women (7 per cent) are more likely to experience psychological distress than men (5 per cent).