'Look to the maunga ... it can lighten your day'

4:52 pm on 14 June 2017

The healing powers of Mount Taranaki are being summoned by a community keen to help young people combat mental health issues.

Mount Taranaki is reflected in a tarn on the Pouakai Crossing

Kanihi hapū chair Daisy Nobel said there was a spiritual element to Mount Taranaki. Photo: Supplied / Jeremy Becker

Local health provider Tui Ora, together with the Department of Conservation and the Taranaki Mounga Project, is developing a new programme to immerse at-risk youth in the region's prized tāonga.

On a chilly morning last week, a group of 10- and 12-year-olds were taken up the snowy mountain.

They were shown old pā sites and taught local knowledge, including why the Kapuni river is sacred and how it is used to perform blessings.

Tui Ora general manager Ruth Smithers said it was the second group to head up the mountain as part of the new programme.

"They talked about the maunga, how they felt better on the maunga," she said.

"It looks different, smells different, sounds different and away from the hustle and bustle - it helps them relax."

Taranaki Mounga Project project director Jan Hania said the group would teach young people about conservation and restoration so they could help the mountain while it helped them.

"We are trying to understand what wellbeing benefits can come to people through being involved in conservation work on the mountain," he said.

"It is well-documented that people being involved in nature derive a whole lot of mental benefits."

Figures released in January showed suicide rates for young Māori men were two-and-a-half times that of their non-Māori counterparts.

Rangatahi suicide prevention advocate Mauriora Tawaroa-Takiari said there was a similar project in Hawke's Bay to get rangatahi involved with the sea.

She had the same message for at-risk rangatahi she met.

"If you are feeling pouri, like you don't know who you are or where you belong, then go back to your marae, go back to your maunga, go back to tangaroa," she said.

"Simply go to the river, do a karakia and then find your wairua, whakapiki o wairua from there."

Ms Tawaroa-Takiari said it was hugely important that adults took advice from young Māori on how to best protect their peers from suicide.

By June next year, Tui Ora hoped to take a total of 75 young people up the mountain as part of the new project.

Kanihi hapū chair Daisy Nobel said more could be done to raise awareness of mental health problems in young people.

But calling on the mountain for its healing powers was a good start, she said.

"There is a wairuatanga aspect to our maunga and there always has been, and always will be," she said.

"It is not necessarily something that is seen, but more something that you know is there.

"You can look to the maunga and with just a few words, it can lighten your day."

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.