When Tegan Allpress' parents died 13 months apart, she didn't just lose her mum and dad, she lost her childhood hero and her best friend.

It's tough for the 20-year-old and not surprisingly she's battling depression, anxiety and has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But the brave Rotorua woman is this week speaking out for the first time about her grief and why getting help has saved her.

She said her intentions sounded cliche but were honest - she wanted her journey to help others.

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Tegan and her brother, Ruben, 18, were suddenly left orphaned in March last year when their mother, adored Rotorua primary school teacher Louise Jones, died suddenly.

Louise Jones was an adored teacher at Westbrook Primary School. She died at the age of 52 in March last year. Photo / Supplied
Louise Jones was an adored teacher at Westbrook Primary School. She died at the age of 52 in March last year. Photo / Supplied

She had been feeling unwell for a couple of days, called in sick to work and she just collapsed and died. An autopsy ruled she died of natural causes at just 52.

Tegan said her death was made even harder because there was no explanation - she was fit, healthy and was her and Ruben's rock after they had lost their father, who had suffered brain cancer, in February 2017.

Rotorua police officer Detective Steve Allpress died in 2017 after battling cancer. Rotorua / Supplied.
Rotorua police officer Detective Steve Allpress died in 2017 after battling cancer. Rotorua / Supplied.

Seeing their dad, popular Rotorua policeman Detective Steve Allpress, lose his painful and traumatic battle at the age of 54 was hard enough. Losing their mum was not negotiable.

As the older sister, Tegan flew into functioning mode. She barely cried. She felt she needed to be "strong Tegan" despite all her close support from friends and family who would have supported her if she fell apart.

Tegan Allpress holds a photo of her late parents, Steve Allpress and Louise Jones. Photo / Ben Fraser
Tegan Allpress holds a photo of her late parents, Steve Allpress and Louise Jones. Photo / Ben Fraser

After helping to sort necessities, she was back at the University of Auckland after two weeks continuing her Bachelor of Fine Arts. That was how she coped and she had a semester exchange to UCLA in August to look forward to.

She described her trip to the United States as "the best".

"It was tough but it was the best thing I could have done. It gave me purpose."

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But when she got home earlier this year after five months away, her emotions exploded.

Having previously suffered from depression during her father's illness and having panic attacks following her mother's death, she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Suicidal thoughts and hitting the lowest point she's ever been were all part of her journey where she's now sought help and has picked herself up.

She said it was such a "Kiwi thing" to pretend you were fine and people often compared their sadness with others.

"You don't have to have bad things happen to you to get help. I feel bad when my friends come to me with problems and say 'oh but it's nothing compared with what you've been through'. Yes, my life is a bit of s**t show but people's struggles are valid. It's not a competition who has it worse."

This week Tegan posted a video on YouTube and shared it on her Facebook page that talked through her mental health issues and dealing with her grief.

"It's helping me as much as it's helping others."

And the determined youngster has plenty of reasons to get herself sorted.

Once she's finished her degree, she intends to travel before returning to New Zealand to pursue a career in the police - just like her father.

"When I was a kid I thought it was so cool that Dad was a cop, he was my hero."

She thought the feeling of wanting to join the police was "just a fad" but when she bumped into Inspector Anaru Pewhairangi - Rotorua police's area commander - recently and he asked her why she wasn't at police college, it got her thinking more.

"I thought of dropping out of uni to do it but I know both Mum and Dad would haunt me if I did that," she joked.

Besides, she loved learning at university and loved the arts and it was making her happy.

For now she's focussing on her studies, getting mentally fit and dealing with grief.

"When people say it gets easier that's rubbish. It doesn't. But grief changes and you find other ways of looking at it ... I had the best parents for 18 and 19 years and that's more than some people get and in some ways I feel grateful."

Tegan's top tips
* Write down what you did each day in a journal
* Allow yourself to feel things but don't dwell
* Surround yourself with positive people
* Exercise - even just go outside or go somewhere
* Find positives
* Write down three specific things at the end of each day you are grateful for
* Be kind and listen to those around you
* Give yourself a break to recharge when you need it
* Be by yourself in new situations


Why get help?
Getting help is a sign of strength not a sign of weakness, clinical leader for Rotovegas Youth Health Dr Tania Pinfold says.

"Young people need to know there are lots of good places to ask for help. Life is stressful and when you get the right help your problems come right."

Pinfold said parents should also not be afraid to ask for help if they are noticing changes in their children.

"All you have to do is ask."

Where to get help
If you are worried about your own or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. But if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police on 111.
* Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
* 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)
* Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
* Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
* Samaritans: 0800 726 666