Living with a mental illness can be hard, especially if you feel isolated because of it.

A group of people in Stratford are determined to change that, and have set up a peer support group as a result.

One member, who we are calling Michelle in this article for privacy reasons, says the group has been an invaluable support to her since it started over two years ago.

"We all have different reasons for being there. Some of our members are living with OCD, some with bipolar, some with anxiety or depression, but we all want to support each other and find our own strengths in doing so."

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The group started, she says, at the suggestion of Bernie Kira of Supporting Families Taranaki.

"Bernie was working with members of our families or wider whānau. Supporting Families is focused on helping those who are living with someone with mental illness so she knew people who knew us, so to speak. She suggested a peer support group for the people with the mental wellness issues themselves might be useful and it was!"

Since they first began meeting, the group has become an important part of the lives of each of the members.

"Some of us come to every meeting pretty much every Friday afternoon, while others come just when they feel they are particularly struggling or in need of some company. Sometimes you can't get to a meeting, but just knowing you have people in the same town as you who understand your struggles and challenges can be what you need."

Michelle says the group want to make more people in the community aware they exist, as they are sure there are others who would benefit from joining.

"We are all friendly, and we don't judge. It gives people a safe place to come and talk, secure in the knowledge you are talking with people who don't stigmatise mental wellness issues and who understand how hard the journey can be at times."

Michelle says the group has been her rock during tough times, and she wants others to benefit from that support too.

"Please, just come along and sit in. Listen or talk, just be present and let us show you there is support when you need it."

■ Stratford Mental Wellness Peer Support Group: Meets at the Stratford Community House, 52 Juliet St, every Friday at 3pm. All welcome.