I’d like to suggest that mental wellness is something you work at proactively. Like a diligent citizen you spend time, energy and money on things that support your mental wellness. It might look like a book on a topic that lights you up, or a membership to a gym, or organic produce at a farmers market, phoning a friend or going to a movie. It’s different for all of us, but it will be something that lights your fire, floats your boat and makes you want to do it.
Mental wellness from Aotearoa, New Zealand has its roots in a holistic well being system that draws on four parts. It was developed by the scholar Mason Durie and this model of well being is known as ‘Tapa Wha’. The idea is that each of these four areas of well being can stand alone as separate walls of a house (whare), but in order to be able to put the roof on securely, not only do all four walls have to be strong, they also have to fit together and support each other.
The walls are as follows
Wairua: spiritual practice
Hinengaro: mental well being & mental fitness
Tinana: physical body
Whānau: relationships and connections that come from family & social well being
I’d like to explain each area in more depth.
Wairua: The idea of something to believe in that is bigger than yourself. It looks different for everyone and we all have our own unique answers to this question. It may be called God, the universe, source, Buddha, the belief systems are endless but the important thing is that you have one that works for you. It nourishes you, it sustains your soul and it brings you joy. You can choose to share it with others or to keep it to yourself.
Hinengaro: Mental well being, also know as emotional intelligence or E.Q. It’s the idea of being able to recognise and respond to your emotions as they arise. To believe in yourself and see the impact of the gifts you have to offer. To be able to manage your stress levels. To know your strengths and weakness. To have the ability to communicate your needs and wants clearly to others.
Tinana: Your physical body. This means eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active doing something you enjoy, regularly and getting plenty of sleep & lots of sunlight. It means giving and receiving loving touch, laughing every day and exercising those smile muscles.
Whānau: The relationships you have with the people you call family. Whether it’s an old or close friend, your third cousin twice removed, your parents or your siblings this is the wall that guides you, and often contains beliefs that you have carried since childhood or even brought from previous generations.
When these four walls work together and support an individual they provide a strong, healthy person who is able to contribute, learn, grow and function with love in society. Life may bring them unfair challenges but a person with their four walls intact will be able to meet these challenges with dignity, grace and strength. Their roof will be strong and reach into the sky.
Every baby that’s born arrives in this world with their four walls already in place. Environment and challenges do affect us, either strengthening or damaging the walls. Anxiety and depression are like a borer bug, quietly eating away in the background, often multiplying without the house owner even realising it’s there. You may not know that you have a depression or anxiety problem until the damage becomes visible, so early identification is key to recovery. Left untreated they will cause more harm.
We are all responsible for strengthening our mental wellness, taking us from well towards thriving. And the funny thing is that as we reach out to help others who are struggling, we find ourselves becoming stronger: as we give strength to others our courage to see, care and support others grows, reflecting back in the walls of our own whare.
Given the headlines of our recent suicide statistics, it is very clear that we have an enormous amount of work to do when it comes to keeping ourselves mentally well and supporting others to do the same. We may be different from each other, but we have so much to learn when we reach out to another person. Please, let people into your whares, open the doors and reach out to embrace another person. One thing I know for sure is that we’re not going to get better on our own. When it comes to depression and anxiety let others help and be there to help others in turn. We all have to work together to strengthen our whare, and to keep it healthy.
Arohanui Aotearoa, we all count.