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Northlanders urged to reconnect with people and places during Mental Health Awareness Week

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“Nature nurtures and sustains us. It’s that simple,” says Haines, who is photographed with a fellow walker at the Wautimarama Waterfall Trail. Photo/ Yvonne Wood

Weekly trips with his group hanging out have always been an essential part of living well for John Haines.

For eight years, Wednesdays have been dedicated to experiencing the beautiful places between the Far North, Whangārei and Opononi.

“It’s exercise, of course,” he said, “but it’s so much more than that.”

“It allows for a deep appreciation of the natural world, making you feel grateful to be alive.

“And it connects you to a group of like-minded, like-hearted people.

“We are human beings, we are social animals, and we need connection. And in today’s world, it seems very easy to separate.”

Haines shared his experience of the inextricable links between walking and being in nature, friendship and well-being in light of Mental Health Awareness Week (September 26 – October 2).

According to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), one in five New Zealanders suffer from mental illness and/or addiction each year, but with the right support, many people can recover.

Haines said he had been depressed before, so he knew how he felt and what it took to get rid of the funk.

“There is heaviness, darkness that comes with depression,” Haines said.

“There is a physical feeling of not wanting to move. So movement is crucial.

“By going out and sharing the places you love with other people, you’re re-acquainting with those places that are yours, the places that are yours and that are special.

“Nature nourishes and sustains us. It’s that simple.”

Everything Haines shared about his walking experience was echoed by this week’s MHF topic: Reconnecting – with the people and places that lift you up – hei pikinga waiora.

The organization’s MHAW 2022 guide features daily activities for adults and tamariki that can be done anywhere.

It has been inspired and informed by a leading advocate for Maori health, Sir Mason Dory, with Te Whare Tapa Whā and Five Ways to Wellbeing, simple, evidence-based strategies for improving wellbeing.

MHF CEO Shawn Robinson emphasized that caring for our mental health isn’t just for people who haven’t had a mental illness, or for those who have been fine and just wanted to be a little better.

“It’s for everyone,” Robinson said.

“MHAW is an opportunity to adjust your mental health and well-being, reconnect with the people that lift you up and the places that matter to you, and notice how it makes you feel.”

John Haines spent eight years hiking beautiful places with his group, including the epic trail that connects Cape Reinga and Taupotupotu. Photo/ Yvonne Wood

Robinson spoke not only through professional experience, but from personal experience.

By living with bipolar disorder, he said, he’s learned that positive lifestyle habits are the most important part of being healthy and staying in shape.

“At least two to three times a year, the symptoms really bite me, often in the form of severe depression and anxiety,” Robinson said.

“Yes, medications are important to help me control this.

“But lifestyle factors are just as important, if not more important, to helping me live well regardless of the fact that I have bipolar disorder.”

The MHAW Manual also contains journal prompts and a space for reflection, to help people begin to notice the connection between what happens in the mind and body.

Robinson was in his fifties when he began to learn about this connection and said he was amazed that there were things he could do to change the way he thinks, feels, and acts in the world.

“It was exciting and liberating,” he said.

“And I wish someone had introduced this to me when I was 16.

“He would definitely help me deal with and manage what happened in my life better.”

Robinson also said that living the change was no wonder for one week, and he encouraged people to interact with the guide as long as they felt the benefit of doing so.

“We all have to face stress, stress, and struggles, but we can deal with those stresses by having habits and behaviors in our lives that enhance our mental health,” Robinson said.

“This week is just a reminder to get to experience this, feel how great it is, and keep going.

“Like your fitness, you need to keep working on it, and keep doing things that increase it.”

To learn more about MHAW, and access free resources including a guide and “How to Get a Safe and Supportive Kōrero Resource,” go to

Those interested in joining the hobo group can contact one of the following three groups, which cater to different abilities and inclinations:

• To join our long and challenging walking tours on Wednesdays, contact Yvonne Wood via text message or phone at 0212641945.

• For a light walk ending with a visit to the café on Thursdays, call Kathryn Russell on 09 4080490.

• To sign up for the monthly Saturday Walking Tours, contact Margaret West at