A topic of huge social importance - and very close to our hearts here at Paper Rain - is that of mental health. Mental health is part of the lives of every one of us and yet the stigma surrounding mental health issues continues to feel like a heavy, foggy cloud that is often skirted around. Meanwhile more and more people in today's hectic and pressure-filled society are in need of real help. Reaching out and asking for help is one of the biggest challenges many of us face and one that requires a huge amount of strength and courage.
Throughout New Zealand, groups have begun to emerge identifying the need for a helping, friendly hand (or ear) and are speaking out, drawing much needed attention to mental health. Silverline Otago is one of these amazing organisations: one that has been built by students for students studying in Otago. As fellow young people striving for a better world, what Silverline Otago is doing for its students speaks volumes to us.
We spoke to the crew at Silverline Otago, and we'll now hand over to them to explain exactly who they are and why what they do is so important!
Tell us a bit about Silverline Otago...
Silverline is a student-led mental health and well-being initiative at the University of Otago. We are here to challenge the struggle of mental health and promote positive well-being amongst our student community. We are here to give mental health a fresh, creative and unexpected look.
What inspired you to start this charity? What keeps you going?
A bunch of people recognised that Otago needed some action to promote better mental health and well-being, and in a way that was going to be relatable and attractive to students. We needed something that was run by students to get them excited to talk about mental health, something that would change the way we look and act towards it.
There are things that come with living in Dunedin like homesickness, being away from your community and support networks, damp and cold housing and poor nutrition that, on top of uni stress, can take you to some dark places. We wanted to get people actively investing time and effort into their mental health and well-being in a way that was fun, creative and student-y. What was supposed to be a one semester trial, turned into two and a half years and we aren’t planning on stopping.
What drives us to keep going is seeing the conversations and this like-minded community grow. It is seeing 400 people engaged in conversations about racism and belonging and demanding that we talk about action. It is seeing 30 people turn up to Fluro Friday at 7am to the beach (on a very chilly Dunedin morning!!) to create a safe space for themselves and others to talk. And it is student health counsellors telling us that a student has finally worked up the courage to come and see them after attending the festival. What was once a shameful conversation behind closed doors is now one that is being had in so many different ways and with so many different voices. Students are exploring and opening new facets of the conversation every year and we want to continue to share this.
What do you think needs to change in the way we talk about mental health?
As a country we have done a really good job to raise awareness and give mental health the voice it needs – but now it’s time to keep moving forward and bring the action. We can’t let mental health become a buzz word that people meaninglessly throw around, nor can we accept that we are destined for poor mental health. We need to keep talking about prevention and what we can do to change the environment that is causing these issues, rather than only be on the reactive end of these issues.
I also think we need to draw some more light on positive mental health. We are often quick to think mental health only means the bad stuff when this is very far from the case. Just as we are implementing things that will help us to avoid poor mental health, we need to implement things that will take us beyond “good” mental health because everybody deserves to thrive.
What do you think are the things in our society that have caused mental health issues to be on the rise? Or do you think it’s just that we actually vocalise it more these days?
Sure, numbers are going to rise as we talk and diagnose more, just like disease incidence increases as they increase screening. However, I think the environment we have been living in can have its toxic elements that can be detrimental to mental health. We can’t ignore things like neoliberalism, colonisation and materialism and the effects that they can have on people. For decades people have been oppressed in many ways, wired to find happiness in objects and social media attention, taught that success comes from the figures in your bank account and led to believe that their poor mental health is a fault of their own. We are so saturated by screens that we spend a huge amount of our time comparing ourselves to others and are taught to only see ourselves for who we are not and what we do not have. While times are definitely changing and there are many positives to the lives we are now living, I think looking at the entire environment we have been raised in can speak to a lot of the issues we see now.
What kind of events or activities does Silverline organize? How are these helpful to mental health?
Our main event is our Silverline Festival which is typically a two-day event full of ted-x style talks, workshops, live music and good kai, to create a safe and vibrant opportunity to explore all aspects of mental health and wellbeing. We, along with the hundreds of students who attend, look at everything from racism to identity, relationships, suicide, belonging, mental illness and anything in between. This event is a powerful and effective way to send strong messages and for everyone to explore them and feel the impact together.
We have Silverline sessions throughout the year with the purpose of building a community and doing activities that are mood boosters – for example we could be making dumplings, having fish n chips at the beach, indoor rock climbing or painting with Bob Ross. The purpose of these sessions are to give people more human connection and to incorporate mindfulness into fun activities.
Our most recent initiative has been our male-led campaign “It’s Not Awkward Bro”. This came from the need to make the mental health conversation, and the messages we share as Silverline, more responsive to our male students. We launched this campaign with a panel of 4 students talking everything male mental health, live music and yet again some good kai. The conversations were confronting for both the panellists and the crowd but in the best way possible. Many humans walked away from that night with a lot of food for thought as well as a huge weight lifted off their shoulders because of the doors that had been opened for conversation.
As well as events we have a resource that we give to students called our Wellbeing Guide. On one side is a cool print and the other has a list and contact details of all the services the University offers that supports their wellbeing. This ranges from academic support, student food banks, sexual violence support, counsellors, social clubs, the uni gym and a whooooole lot more.
For anyone struggling with mental health issues who isn’t at Otago, what are some resources available to them via other providers?
Aside from medical professionals that you trust, here are a few resources in NZ that are pretty epic:
- Ora Magazine – a publication to promote positive wellbeing in young New Zealanders. The content in Ora is extremely refreshing and has without a doubt inspired me to invest a lot more into my wellbeing.
- Fluro Friday (not sure if this counts as a resource but I have decided it does). Indulge in a bit of salt-water therapy whilst dressed in your best fluro gears and have some open and honest chats about what’s on top! If there isn’t a OneWave community in your area already, you can easily make one by rallying up a few mates and then spreading the word. Jump over to OneWave’s website about how you can start a Fluro Friday in your area and what it’s all about.
- Just a Thought - free online therapy courses if you’d prefer not to work with a human and rather in the comfort of your own home! Might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I encourage you to give it a go and see if it works for you.
What do you think are 5 things we can all do for our own mental fitness?
When they say that you need to get a decent sleep – they really do mean it. As a society we have romanticised not sleeping. We praise ourselves and each other for pulling all-nighters because we were working so hard but let’s check ourselves here and realise that this is not something to gloat about. Sleep is most definitely not for the weak!
Move yo' mood! Find a form of exercise that you enjoy. Whether that’s walking, dancing, rock climbing, boogie boarding, whatever it is – get that serotonin and dopamine going wild. Life is too short for getting sweaty over exercise you hate, so find something that you love doing and do it as much as your body will allow!
Don’t get comfortable in the blues. States of depression or low moods can too easily feel comfortable and safe. Within the walls of being kind and realistic, challenge yourself to do things that are good for you. It could be getting to know where you find the most perspective, whether that’s at the beach, watching a specific movie, spending time with family or friends and make sure you push yourself to do these things, especially when you are feeling low.
Prevention is KEY. Get into good habits to minimise the chance of you falling into a rough patch and so that if you do, you already have good coping mechanisms.
Even if you are feeling good, keep challenging yourself to improve on your wellbeing. Remember that mental health is positive too and we all deserve to thrive so don’t stop at ‘good’!!Remember that you are what you eat. And this isn’t just down to food, it’s everything you consume in your day, from your Instagram feed, the people you surround yourself with and the places you spend most of your time. Be aware of what you are consuming and really ask yourself if it is helping you or harming you.
Any product linked with Silverline Otago donates directly back to their efforts to improve the lives and mental health of students in Otago - thank you for your support! Check out the Paper Rain products which help to support this awesome group!