Seddon teens unite community for mental health fundraiser

Still suffering disruption from years of earthquakes and grieving the death of a young friend, residents of Seddon are doing everything they can to help prevent mental health degradation within their community.

Members of Seddon Youth Group are raising money for a bike park on the outskirts of town, and they have painted a shipping container to publicise their efforts.

Establishing a youth councillor for Seddon was also high on the teenagers’ list of priorities.

Seddon Youth Group adult supervisor Maxine Sweeney said the idea for the fundraiser had been in the pipeline for some time, but the group was further inspired to put it into action after the suspected suicide of their friend over the Christmas holidays.

“The youth have been doing all the work. They’re the ones writing the speeches, they’re the ones painting the container,” Sweeney said.

“We’re just supporting them and making sure their voices are heard.”

The free bike park would encourage teenagers to get back to leading “normal” lives by being physically active and social.

Twins Luke and Jonathan Paul, 16, were dubbed by Sweeney as “the masterminds” behind the idea.

“We’re at the age where we’re deciding what to do with our lives and having bad mental health will cause you to make the wrong decisions,” Luke Paul said.

“The earthquakes put stress on everyone and the community deteriorated.

“This new project not only gets the community back together, but it also improves our mental health.”

Jonathan Paul said his friend’s death “could have been prevented”.

“If you think your child needs help, get help,” he said.

The first stage of their fundraising plan was to “get everyone together” and raise awareness in town.

Sage Keen, 16, headed the paint designs on Seddon’s ship container with her younger sister, Maddi.

“Our designs were based on what we wanted people to see, such as our logo and a dial that shows how much money has been raised,” Keen said.

“We selected colours that would bring life to the container and therefore the town and community.

The small-town fundraiser caught the eye of Nelson Marlborough District Health Board and Westpac after Smart and Connected brought it to their attention.

The programme, which was run by the Marlborough District Council, aimed to develop economic development within communities. Council support services manager Dean Heiford said the bike park caught attention after youth highlighted the opportunities and challenges facing the region.

“The youth group were enthusiastic about the bike park. They presented good ideas which showed thought and planning,” Heiford said.

The fundraiser on May 4 would feature a speech from former All Black Sir Jonathan Kirwan.

Kirwan’s own experience of and recovery from mental illness had played a major role in addressing mental health in New Zealand.

Also speaking at the event would be author Doug Avery, who wrote on rural mental health in Resilient Farmer, and mental health advocate Lee Griggs.

The fundraiser would advocate for better mental health services in Seddon, after residents found themselves back at square one following two major earthquakes since 2013.

Some buildings damaged in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in November of 2016 had yet to be repaired, causing families to be displaced from their homes.

Linda Marshall, whose house was badly damaged after the Kaikōura earthquake, said the earthquake “affected you, no matter what age you were”.

“Our house was broken for so long that we were used to it,” Marshall said.

“It was only when we went into someone else’s house, a house that wasn’t damaged by the quake, that we realised how badly damaged our own house was.

“We supported the kids through it but we didn’t give ourselves time to come to terms with it. Once I did, I felt out of control and had panic attacks.

“I allowed myself to say, ‘I am not OK today.'”

Similar tales were heard from other Seddon residents.

“We were asleep in bed when the earthquake happened. It woke us up and our family slept the rest of the night in the driveway. It was hard to sleep with everyone in the car,” Luke Paul said.

“In the morning we went in to check out the damage. Our house had cracks down the walls and creaky boards. The whole kitchen was on the floor.

“At the moment we’re staying with our older sister in Blenheim during the school holidays while our home is being rebuilt. Our family is split apart.”

Keen’s family, which boasts five children under 16-years-old, was also hit hard in the Kaikōura earthquake.

“Afterward the earthquake hit, we had trouble getting inside the house. It was a mess,” Keen said.

“We had friends and family come around to help clean up, but even when everything was cleaned up we didn’t feel safe at home.

“A lot of people have left. Some people couldn’t live here anymore thanks to the damage and moved, while others just didn’t feel safe.”

Marshall said children in particular struggled to cope after the earthquakes.

“About 80 per cent of the kids suffer from emotional or psychological trauma,” Marshall said.

Marshall said the youth group was breathing life back into the community.

“It’s fantastic to see genuine laughter coming back into them.”

Youth group members would act as waitresses during the fundraiser and serve canapes and champagne to attendees on arrival, followed by a three-course meal. There were also plans to hold silent and bidding auction of items.

Awatere Valley Trust chairwoman Charmaine Hammond said community members had already donated several items for the auction.

A bach giveaway worth $600 was up for grabs.

The event would take place at the Rangitane Cultural Centre, in Grovetown, on May 4 at 6.30pm. Tickets cost $100 per seat or $1000 per table. For more information or to book tickets email seddonrailwaystation@gmail.com.

WHERE TO GET HELP

Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757

Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz

0800 WHATSUP children’s helpline – phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.

Kidsline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.

Your local Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).

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