From the age of four until he was about 10, Jason Haitana was sexually and physically abused by whānau members.
"My story is not unique, nor is it unexpected," he said.
Today, Haitana helps people who struggle with their mental health. But before the Kaitāia man was able to support others he had to work on his own healing.
"My experiences left me unable to regulate my emotions in a healthy way and I suffered from anxiety and depression."
For years Haitana was suicidal and not capable of maintaining stable relationships.
"I started hearing voices and seeing things. Whānau tried to help but didn't know where the help was that I needed."
In 2002 he was admitted to hospital.
"I spent the years following that trying to figure out how to have the life that I wanted and asking, 'why me?'."
As part of his recovery and to find a sense of belonging, Haitana explored his whakapapa - finding out who he was and where he came from.
"Without doubt, being Māori gave me the strength to get through. I then found work as a peer support adviser and that in turn led to my current role."
Haitana is the consumer and family leader for the mental health and addiction services at Northland District Health Board. He is not only working with people who need mental health support but also their affected families.
"Now I am able to work with whānau and say to them, 'I once was a boy like your boy'. It gives people hope.
"I love that four-year-old boy I used to be and I keep him safe by acknowledging him. I'm all that's left of him so I honour him in my work."
Haitana was recently nominated by the National Association of Mental Health Service Consumer Advisers – a group that he co-chairs – for the PWC New Zealand Lived Experience Leadership Award at the 2021 HeadFit Awards.
This award category recognises an individual with lived experience of neurodiversity, mental illness or mental distress who has demonstrated leadership by role modelling, reducing stigma, and driving positive mental health conversations.
Reflecting on the awards process, Haitana was left with the sense that the mental health conversation has moved away from the "harden up" approach of the past.
"Businesses and organisations from a wide range of sectors were represented at the awards, all of whom genuinely seek solutions to mental health issues. I remember a time when you didn't talk about these things and the result of that was that people committed suicide."
For Haitana, being an award finalist has sharpened his sense of purpose.
"Working in mental health and addictions, we don't get many pats on the back. So this award finalist recognition is for all of us with lived experience working in mental health. It's an achievement founded on the group – the team and whānau who have put me there."
To him, it shows that people with lived experience can achieve huge milestones.
"Everybody owns mental health, it's not just the health sector."
Haitana's hopes for the future are that more people will access mental health support when they need to and that the required services will be available to everyone.
WHERE TO GET HELP
If it is an emergency and you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
For counselling and support
Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Need to talk? Call or text 1737
Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202
For children and young people
Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234
What's Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm)
The Lowdown: Text 5626 or webchat
For help with specific issues
Alcohol and Drug Helpline: Call 0800 787 797
Anxiety Helpline: Call 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)
OutLine: Call 0800 688 5463 (0800 OUTLINE) (6pm-9pm)
Safe to talk (sexual harm): Call 0800 044 334 or text 4334
All services are free and available 24/7 unless otherwise specified.
For more information and support, talk to your local doctor, hauora, community mental health team, or counselling service. The Mental Health Foundation has more helplines and service contacts on its website.