Jennifer's story - challenging the stigma of mental health through volunteering

23 May 2019 | News

Jennifer's story - challenging the stigma of mental health through volunteering

I have done a significant amount of volunteering in Hamilton through the grace of God to give back to the community, for my faith and to challenge the stigma of mental health and other stigmas. I have mostly really enjoyed it and it does bring rewards that are more emotional/spiritual seeing the difference it is making in the lives of others and the sense of purpose it has.

I know people with mental health issues suffer a lot of trauma so they do not deserve the stigma that often comes with mental health, and this stigma needs challenging. I have had the privilege of being the only NZ Pakeha over the years at groups where there has been only Maori, Asian and Indonesian people – I just love it.

Over past years I have worked at early childhood centres, helped facilitate mental health groups, distributed mental health resources throughout Hamilton and Auckland, was part of a consumer advisory group, written emails to the Council about community issues, rang Animal Control many times about stray dogs and rescued birds. I have also started a Neighbourhood Support Group in the area and have worked for a Red Cross second-hand clothing store.

I have befriended homeless people trying to show the love of Christ, and supported positive changes in their lives. Homelessness is increasing in the country and they too have suffered a lot of trauma and deserve respect. After the mosque attacks I wore the scarf that Muslims wear in the Red Cross store to support the Muslim community. There are so many values that people of different cultures have in common.

I have also provided information to TVNZ and Shine TV about mental health for their programmes, written about advertisements on the billboards, written content on the TV many times and have provided a display on mental health that has gone around the city to most of the libraries. I have also formed documents with the NZ Police for mental health and had the support of a policewoman throughout this process. This voluntary work has been a great way of giving back to the Police for all the good work they do.

My hope is that through the grace of God that people benefit from this work and see the value of voluntary work for the community. It does help to challenge the stigma of mental health and instead focus on people’s strengths and the trauma with kindness, opposed to disrespect and poor, inhumane treatment.

If everyone works just a bit towards improving the lives of those most misunderstood and discriminated against like also those with disabilities and those of other cultures, it changes the whole overall fabric of the community and society. I have been trying to challenge discriminatory ideas for a long time – it just involves finding common ground and being open to difference.

It is also vital to appreciate and understand the diversity of people in the community, and the different social/cultural experiences people have that contribute to their lives. The spirit of unity, safety, inclusiveness and peace can be fostered in a community that supports the values of everyone.

Jennifer Nicholls - May 2019