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Tune in for mental health

Makoura College student Seni-Isaia Iasona. PHOTO/SUPPLIED


Erin Kavanagh-Hall

A Masterton teenager is taking to the airwaves to continue a pressing, and sometimes uncomfortable conversation – youth mental health.

Seni-Isaia Iasona, an aspiring broadcaster and Year 12 student at Makoura College, will be hosting a 24-hour radio marathon, to be broadcast live on the college’s own station, East FM, from this Friday morning.

On air, Seni, 17, will use his time in the disc jockey’s chair to raise awareness of mental health difficulties and their impact on New Zealand youth.

He will be hosting discussions with fellow students, sharing their thoughts and experiences of mental health struggles, and has organised a line-up of guest speakers, from Wairarapa and beyond.

For the past few years, the subject of mental illness has been up close and personal for Wairarapa – particularly so when the region boasted the unhappy honour of the highest suicide rate in the country, per head of population, in 2016/17.

The Makoura College community itself was shaken last July, when a former student took her own life.

Seni said he wanted to use the radio marathon as an opportunity to “open the door” and have an honest dialogue about mental health – and to lead by example to remove the stigma from the struggle.

“We know Masterton has a high suicide rate, and the mental health system in New Zealand is under-funded,” Seni said.

“But we can’t wait for the government and money to fix the problem.

“Change comes from us young people as well – we have to be the ones to carry on the conversation and normalise things like anxiety and depression.

“How can young people like us get help, if we’re scared of being judged and getting negative feedback?”

Seni said he became more aware of mental illness this year, after taking dance as a subject for NCEA.

For an assessment, his class choreographed and performed contemporary dance routines with a mental health theme – with Seni dancing in a duet representing bipolar disorder, and in a group piece portraying Alzheimer’s.

He and his classmates performed the latter routine at the recent DanceNZ Made Interschool Competition, representing Makoura, which he said was well received.

This, along with 24-hour radio shows he had listened to on ZM, inspired Seni to host a radio show for Mental Health Awareness Week.

With support from Makoura Media Studies teacher Andrew Hutchby and principal Paul Green, he began organising the programme for East FM, contacting guest hosts and arranging sponsors.

So far, he has invited a range of famous voices to appear on the show, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Wairarapa List MPs Kieran McAnulty and Ron Mark, and the Green Party’s Chloe Swarbrick, as well as various community mental health workers.

“He has secured sponsorship from the Copthorne Solway Park, which has offered prizes for East FM listeners, Masterton District Council, The Farriers, Breadcraft, The Clareville Bakery, and Berocca, which will be providing drinks to help Seni and guests stay lively until the show wraps.”

“I’ve never stayed up for a whole 24 hours – 4am has probably been the latest.”

Seni says he looks forward to having “some raw and real discussions” about mental health, and the pressures faced by young people, with his teen co-hosts.

He says he has noticed his peers grapple with anxiety and depression and believes this is worsened by the prevalence of social media.

“Young people are dependent on social media, like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, and there’s that pressure to put on a perfect image to your friends and the world.

“We want to get the message out there that it’s actually okay to be vulnerable – it’s okay not to be okay.”

Though there will also be some more light-hearted conversations and games to lift the mood.

“We don’t want to be down in the dumps the whole time.”

Media Studies teacher Andrew Hutchby says he is “very proud” of Seni’s initiative and heart for his community.

“As a teacher, it makes the job easier when there are motivated students who want to be successful.

“Seni recognises that mental health, especially for youth, is a big problem in our society, and wants to do his part.

“Not many younger people would put themselves forward in this way.

“I hope Seni inspires other students at Makoura to be more active in their communities.”

Seni hopes to work in radio broadcasting and is doing work experience with Mediaworks through Makoura’s Gateway programme.

The East FM 24-hour marathon will run from 9am on Friday, October 19, to 9am Saturday, October 20, on 88.1FM.

The show will also be livestreamed on the Makoura College Facebook page.


Some useful free phone helplines

These 24/7 free phones are operated by trained counsellors who can help you talk through problems and identify ways of coping.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 54 (0800 KIDSLINE) supporting under 18 yrs

Youthline: 0800 376 633, free text 234

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (supports 5-18 yr olds, 1pm-11pm)

Women’s Refuge Crisis Line: 0800 733 843

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757

Samaritans: 0800 726 666

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Outline NZ: 0800 688 5463 (0800 OUTLINE) sexuality and gender identity issues

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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