WelCom October 2021
Conversations about attentiveness to understanding and managing mental health and wellbeing for better outcomes are increasing in our communities and workplaces. Last month, the government announced a 10-year plan, called Kia Manawanui, for guiding and improving decisions for better mental health outcomes. This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, 27 September–3 October, had the theme ‘take time to kōrero/mā te kōrero, ka ora – a little chat can go a long way. And this month’s annual UN World Mental Health Day, 10 October, continues to raise awareness of mental health issues and support around the world.
Sir Br Patrick Lynch, leading educationalist and a former CEO of the New Zealand Catholic Education Office, has joined forces with prominent mental-health advocate Sir John Kirwan, as a member of the JK Foundation. Among its work, by bringing mental-health awareness and self-management tools to schools, the JK Foundation aims to provide young people with the skills and knowledge to recognise and respond to mental-health issues, both in themselves and others.
Sir Br Patrick Lynch grew up in Auckland in the suburb of Papatoetoe and attended De La Salle College, Mangere East where he became a religious brother of the De La Salle Order. Br Pat has known Sir John since he was a student at De La Salle College, Auckland, when the Br Pat was the principal of the College, and shares his vision to support and help teachers and students as they struggle to cope with the many pressures of the modern world.
The JK Foundation’s Mental and Emotional Health Initiative
Sir John Kirwan, MBE, OBE, KNZM, is often best known in rugby as one of the highest try scores in rugby union history. What is less known is that during his remarkable rugby career, he was silently battling depression.
On stepping down from the international rugby spotlight, JK began openly talking about his battles with depression, bringing the-then stigma of mental health into the public arena. He effectively became the spokesperson for the New Zealand Government’s mental health awareness campaign.
It was for this work, as well as his rugby career, that he was honoured with a knighthood. Over the years JK has continued to lead public awareness into mental health and wellbeing, and has written about his depression in the books All Black’s Don’t Cry, and Stand By Me.
He recently launched a free app called Mentemia, a programme that focusses on assisting people with tools and tips to enable them to deal with life’s inevitable ups and downs, including Covid-19.
A large part of John’s current focus is now on developing an approach to mental-health education for children and young people, which is called ‘Mitey’.
Mitey is a New Zealand-specific, Years 1–8 approach to embedding mental-health education in both teaching and learning. It helps children to build the necessary age-appropriate skills, knowledge and understanding they need to mature their own emotional wellbeing and those of others. Teachers, parents and experts all agree.
It is evidence based, aligning to a particular school’s culture and special character. Additionally, it is supported by a wide range of curriculum-based resources. Teachers have ongoing support from a dedicated, free Mitey coach.
The last few years have brought increased awareness of the alarming number of children experiencing mental-health issues in New Zealand. Teachers know that anxious and unhappy children find it difficult to learn. If children are mentally and emotionally healthy, they are better equipped to face the challenges life brings.
Mitey aligns to the New Zealand Curriculum and is woven into everyday teaching to spark and stimulate new learning. This integration of Mitey extends school-wide to tailored strategies that staff, family and the community can use to extend and promote overall wellbeing in the school setting.
Schools and teachers are not alone when they work with Mitey. A dedicated, free coach is there with staff, every step of the way, offering guidance and ongoing professional development. Currently, four primary schools are piloting the initiative, including one Catholic school, with more lined up for 2022. Ultimately secondary schools will be involved.
As children work through the different levels of Mitey, the learning builds. Mitey aims to increase knowledge and understanding of those experiencing difficulties, remove any misconceptions and replace them with an atmosphere of positivity and acceptance. At the same time, they are introduced to various behaviour ‘tools’, that will enable them to manage themselves better.
The aim of the JK Foundation, that oversees this initiative, is to roll it out over time to every school in New Zealand that desires to take part. Auckland University is closely involved in developing, working with and guiding the initiative.
This is unique creation and an exciting development in Aotearoa New Zealand, which aims to enable all citizens to build their wellbeing and resilience.