Makoura College’s Alex Dahlberg, 16, has organised the second annual 24 Hours For Mental Health radio marathon. PHOTO/ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

Erin Kavanagh-Hall

Makoura College is once again hitting the airways for mental health awareness – with a new host, a new line-up of guests, and an extra minute.

Year 12 student Alex Dahlberg has organised Makoura’s second annual 24 Hours For Mental Health (Plus One Minute) radio marathon, kicking off this Friday morning on the school’s own station, 88.1 Hit Student Radio (formerly East FM).

The first radio marathon, held last year, was organised and hosted by fellow student Seni-Isaia Iasona, and featured discussions with young people, staff, community leaders and politicians about their experience of mental ill health, what helped with their recovery, and the solutions to improving New Zealanders’ wellbeing.

Like Seni before him, Alex has sought online sponsorship for the show, the proceeds of which will be donated to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

And he may end up surpassing last year’s donation of more than $1500, with his fundraising webpage bringing it close to $700 in its first week.

Alex, an award-winning football referee, is familiar with the impact of mental ill health.

Several of his friends and whanau have experienced mental distress – and his own mental health has been affected when, after having to make some unpopular decisions on the football field, he has been a target of vicious abuse from players and supporters.

This year, sport will be a feature of the radio marathon – with Alex chatting with sportspeople about their experiences of anxiety and depression, and the strategies they use to cope

“It does get really stressful – I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights over calls I’ve had to make and people’s reactions,” Alex said.

“I’m 16 years old, and I’ve had grown men, in their 30s and 40s, swearing and yelling at me on the field – stuff like that can really get to you.

“I think the show will be a good opportunity to discuss these things and keep the conversation about mental health going.

“Statistics show one in five New Zealanders struggle with their mental health, and that depression will eventually be the number one cause of death.

“It’s a silent killer – so it’s important to keep talking about it, and let people know it’s okay not to be okay, and it’s good to ask for help.”

Alex, who says he is “super passionate about football”, first cut his teeth as a referee last year, starting out as an assistant referee for the college games and later moving field-side for the Capital Football Federation Wairarapa League matches.

This year, his schedule was full to bursting –  refereeing for the National Youth League, National Women’s League, the National University Futsal championship games, and Wairarapa United, to name a few.

Though he loves the high-energy, fast-paced nature of the game, the tense atmosphere once a red card has been pulled can be tough to manage.

“It has been a big learning curve,” Alex says.

“It is accepted in football that people will argue with the ref – you have to block out the supporters and get on with it.

“Having to put sanctions on people is just part of it – in one Wairarapa United vs. Magpies game, there were six yellow cards given, and one red card.”

Despite the stress, Alex has stuck to his guns and his eagle eye has won him the trophy for Referee of the Year for Wairarapa at last year’s Wairarapa and Capital Football Referees Awards, and the title of Junior Official of the Year at the 2019 Wairarapa Times-Age Sports Awards.

For the radio marathon, Alex has so far secured sponsorship and spot prizes from the Copthorne Solway Park, Breadcraft, Mitre 10 Mega, Masterton, The Hive Accountants, Farriers, New World Masterton, Lonestar, Masterton District Council and Berocca, which again will be providing energy throughout the marathon.

Media studies teacher Andrew Hutchby, who has mentored Alex while organising the marathon, says Alex is focussed and goal-driven in all aspects of life.

“He set himself the challenge of doing the marathon this year, and he’s been determined to see it through no matter what.

“He’s a very caring kid – very thoughtful and accepting towards all kinds of people.”

Alex is also a member of the Makoura College Services Academy, and has been recently elected as student trustee on the school’s Board of Trustees.

The 88.1 Hit Student Radio marathon will run from 9am on Friday, October 18, to 9.01am Saturday, October 19.

The show will also be livestreamed on social media and Wairarapa TV.