Leading The Way For Self-Care

Jody Burrell, co-founder at CoLiberate along with her two best friends Bop and Sarah, recently stood on stage in front of 1,300 young New Zealanders as a key speaker at our partner charity Inspiring Stories’ flagship event Festival For The Future, to bravely share some of her own mental health story and encourage young people to engage in self-care.

She’s generously taken the time here to share the experience with us, the journey that lead there, and how Inspiring Stories’ have helped along the way.


A year and a half ago, I started coming to terms with my anxiety and depression, and learning, slowly, how to invite others into that process. At the same time, I was working on a project that I was seriously passionate about together with my two best friends. It was a theatre show – our biggest yet, and I felt so connected to the work of helping people to share their real stories on the stage. It was easy to keep the unhappiness inside myself very separate from the work that I loved so much, but eventually these things started to overlap.

At the end of the project, several members of the fast-growing community of socially active people who had worked hard on the show announced that they would like to quit their jobs and work full time with us. This was amazing of course, but it also spurred a big realisation: the community was growing faster than our resources and what it took for us personally to keep going at that pace was already too much.

We were all pouring our heart and soul into some of the most fulfilling mahi we had ever done yet getting burnt out trying to pay the rent, and more and more my own mental health was getting harder to manage.

Something needed to change. Then late one night after returning from a rehearsal I saw an ad for Inspiring Stories’ nine week accelerator programme – Live the Dream. Applications were closing in 20 minutes, so I threw together a pitch on the spot... And guess what... we got in!

The three of us put the rest of our lives on hold for nine weeks and committed all our energy into what we thought we needed to do: make theatre sustainable.

The programme asked us to dig deep into what we felt our world really needed, and that’s when something amazing happened. Our mission shifted. We came out of Live the Dream knowing for sure that our mission wasn’t about theatre at all, but to make people more sustainable. We realised that our passion for helping people to articulate their stories could be transformative beyond the stage.

Out of our own first hand experience of getting burnt out trying to balance our sense of self with our drive to do something that counts, we started our organisation CoLiberate, to help people develop a positive relationship with their mindhealth. We made a commitment to doing our best to do all that we do with our own mental health at the forefront – and that applies to the whole team!

For a full year now, CoLiberate has run a thriving gym for mental health in the CBD of Wellington, delivering emotional workouts to hundreds of members of the public, and our mission is to keep this up until we can create a gym culture for mental health.

We have now developed a one of a kind programme for organisations – Mental Resilience and Emotional First Aid – alongside a clinical psychologist, which is delivered in a hands-on way.

The programme is shifting the way workplaces engage with mental health, eliminating stigma, equipping managers and teams with tools to support each other to be well, so that they can work well.

Now, a short but full 18 months on from first leaning into my personal experience with mental health, I had the privilege to stand in front of 1,300 New Zealanders at Inspiring Stories’ Festival for the Future to share our story.

I love taking any opportunity that I can to model that it is ok to not always be ok, and to invite the thousands of other Kiwis with mental health experiences to feel powerful in their vulnerability, when they can.

It’s the most important thing to me. While encouraging others to change the world we also need to be encouraging self care. We are our biggest resource. Anything we set out to achieve in life is only possible if we first look after ourselves. As a nation we are ready to outgrow burnout, and the energy we felt backing this idea among some of the game-changers of our future in that room was immensely inspiring to us.

The decision we made, to actively engage in our positive mental health, has changed everything for us. Getting to reflect on what we wish we’d known just 18 short months ago when we went rolling into Live the Dream, and to get to see how much more ready for our message these inspired and motivated young people were at Festival for the Future, has grounded us even further into our purpose.

We came away feeling confident about a future where young people will have the courage to do what it takes to care for themselves as well as their world.

– Jody Burrell of CoLiberate

Inspiring Stories run programmes year-round to empower young Kiwis with ideas for a better world to get out there and make it happen. To help them support more wonderful people such as Jody, Bop and Sarah, learn more about their work and back them with 1% of your income!