Writing To Reach You

Whaiora Patrick knows all too well the shame and stress of child poverty and how badly it can affect your mental health and wellbeing growing up: she’s been there. There were dark and lonely times but Whaiora survived thanks to her love of writing and desire to help others. A Future Leader with Inspiring Stories, she wants to share her experiences to show young people that it’s okay to not be okay.

Whaiora Patrick knows all too well the shame and stress of child poverty and how badly it can affect your mental health and wellbeing growing up: she’s been there. There were dark and lonely times but Whaiora survived thanks to her love of writing and desire to help others. A Future Leader with Inspiring Stories, she wants to share her experiences to show young people that it’s okay to not be okay.

Last year, Bay of Plenty mental health advocate Whaiora Patrick was working with a 15-year-old from Whakatāne who was feeling suicidal. The girl reminded Whaiora, now 24, of her old self. ‘She was hurting herself because she felt alone.’

Whaiora, of Ngāti Rangitihi, told the teen about the need to find a positive voice inside our heads. Everyone has an inner critic. It can empower us, or it can bring us down.

‘I told her that we need to learn how to correct that negative critic and realise there are people who care about you. In her mind she feels like no one loves her and she’s always alone.’

Just five years ago, Whaiora was in a similar ‘dark place’.

Growing up in the small timber town of Kawerau, Whaiora’s self-esteem, confidence and mental health were affected by a tough childhood. She and her mum Sarah were very close but struggled with poverty, and spent time living in a women’s refuge.

At 16 she began regularly self-harming – cutting herself. Whaiora was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. In 2014, she made four suicide attempts while studying at polytech in Rotorua.

There were hospital stays and counselling sessions. Whaiora also spent time in a respite care facility, a recovery service that offers a place where people experiencing mental health difficulties can rest and recover in a home-like environment. But things only changed for Whaiora when she realised that ‘no one can fix me, I have to do it myself. People can support me, but they can’t fix me’.

Sitting in her Kawerau living room today, Whaiora says, ‘mentally, then, I was still a child [at 19]. I wasn’t taught how to deal with my emotions, I wasn’t taught how to talk about my problems.’

Whaiora finally found a positive coping mechanism through her love of writing. ‘When I’m feeling stressed out I write my feelings.’ For others, it might be the gym or running or, for the 15-year-old from Whakatane, it is drawing.

PM Jacinda Ardern and Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage celebrate the announcement by joining the kids for a beach clean-up.

PM Jacinda Ardern and Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage celebrate the announcement by joining the kids for a beach clean-up.

In 2015, Whaiora started a Bachelor of Arts at Massey, majoring in media studies. In her second year, Whaiora and her long-term partner Jeff had a baby daughter, Zahvina, now two. Whaiora still managed to complete her degree within four years and graduated this May.

She wants to use her talents to share both her story, and those of others who have had similar experiences, to reach out to young people.

There are still times when she feels down or anxious, she says, but she no longer thinks about suicide or hurting herself.

This is because she has a ‘passion and a purpose’.

`My passion is to help other young people survive, and my purpose is to be here for my child. I don’t want her to have the life I had, I want her to have a better life.´

To fulfil her aim of helping rangatahi, Whaiora wanted an official qualification. She is currently doing a graduate diploma in youth development at WelTec.

In 2018, Whaiora set herself a goal to create more awareness of mental health across Aotearoa. She ran her first marathon, raising $400 for the Mental Health Foundation. She came second in a local short story competition, writing a frank and moving account of her journey recovering from self-harm.

She also joined her local Future Leaders programme, run by charity organisation Inspiring Stories. Through it, she can support young people going through tough times, who want to make a positive impact in their community.

‘I want to help them realise that it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to be sad, it’s just what you do about those feelings.’

Inspiring Stories runs a national event, Festival for the Future (FFTF), held annually in Wellington. Kawerau Future Leaders coach Marlena Martin asked Whaiora if she would like to speak on one of the panels at FFTF18 about child poverty.

Whaiora leapt at the chance to share her story and try a new challenge: public speaking.

Half an hour before she was due to go on stage, however, ‘the fear kicked in, I ran off, and I was bawling my eyes out. I felt that I couldn’t tell people this sort of story, I didn’t want people to know this side of me.’

But her Kawerau support crew came to her aid. Marlena stood beside her, and her fellow Future Leaders team members gathered in front of the stage. Whaiora delivered an eloquent and inspiring kōrero about the struggles she and her mum faced.

Whaiora Patrick Inspiring Stories 2

Whaiora, whose name means ‘wellness, health and wellbeing’, is helping rangatahi in other ways, too. She is a regional ambassador for A-OK, a national suicide prevention training programme, while her own personal project is Whai’s Letters of Hope (whais.lettersofhope@gmail.com). People needing a pick-me-up can email her, and she posts them a personalised and supportive handwritten letter back.

Whaiora and partner Jeff are co-founders of the Find Your Fish Movement, which offers youth-led workshops to young people, and supports them to find their passion. ‘It’s good, we both want to help young people so we bounce ideas off each other.’

But the couple always make sure they set time aside for daughter Zahvina. ‘At the weekend, or on her day off kindy, I switch my phone off and both Jeff and I give her our undivided attention. At the end of the day, she is our number one priority.’

Many young people feel overwhelmed by the world’s problems and are unsure how they can make a difference. Inspiring Stories works with young New Zealanders to help them see that they can create a more inclusive, equal and sustainable future, both for themselves and for their community. Giving your 1% to Inspiring Stories supports its two flagship programmes Festival for the Future and Future Leaders.

Interview by Rachel Helyer Donaldson. Images by Manahau Photos.

* If you or anybody you know is going through tough times and needs to talk through things, simply call or text 1737. Support is there 24 hours a day 7 days a week.




View original print design below

Whaiora Patrick  One Percent Collective Generosity Journal 2