Workshop addresses mental health

Volunteers need to put their own oxygen mask on first before they can help others says Mid Canterbury health promoter, and former policeman, Pup Chamberlain. Photos: Toni Williams
Volunteers need to put their own oxygen mask on first before they can help others says Mid Canterbury health promoter, and former policeman, Pup Chamberlain. Photos: Toni Williams
Community Public Health wellness promoter, and former police officer, Pup Chamberlain spoke to Volunteers and Managers in Mid Canterbury earlier this month. Central Rural Life reporter Toni Williams went along to find out about his wellness message.

Volunteers need to put their own oxygen mask on first before they can help others, Mid Canterbury health promoter, and former policeman, Pup Chamberlain says.

''I tell you now, as a volunteer, if you're not looking after yourself properly, then there is no way you are giving 100% to the people that you're working with. It's just common sense.''

It was the message delivered throughout a mental health and wellbeing workshop, attended by more than 30 volunteers, which was led by Mr Chamberlain, of Community Public Health, at the Hotel Ashburton earlier this month.

The volunteers came from organisations such as SEEDS, RDA, Rural Support Trust, Red Cross, St John, Victim Support, Hospice, Salvation Army and Civil Defence.

Mr Chamberlain was humbled by the people present and acknowledged the different levels of rich knowledge and skill in the room.

''In the Mid Canterbury community we have this richness of wellness of people who are happy to give their time to make sure others are well.''

''You may learn nothing at all today but the main thing is you're mixing among others, and that's part of wellness. That's connectivity.''

The session covered wellness, reflection and sleep, delivered through the skills of Mr Chamberlain and his engaging story-telling abilities.

There were also breakout sessions, and time to talk to others about their experiences.

Mr Chamberlain spoke about his family, his time in the police force and the raw effects of policing in Southland as a young man ''10 foot tall and bulletproof'', moving to Ashburton in the mid-1980s, through to his realisation when it was time to leave the police force.

''I had huge anxiety which was not logical ... I made an exit plan [from the police].

''I'm very well now, but it didn't happen straight way. I had to do a bit of work on it.''

He realised pretty early on policing was not just a job. He was seeing things most people were not seeing day-to-day, like tragedies such as plane crashes, driving fatalities, effects of suicide, drownings and, more recently, the Christchurch earthquakes, and the Winz shooting in Ashburton.

He also policed during the Springbok Tour.

He said of telling family members of a sudden death and their varied responses ''no training can prepare you to do it''.

However, throughout his policing, he was dealing with the issues as a professional.

He had a wall.

''I wasn't going to share it with other people, because I didn't want other people to feel like me. But all I was doing was preparing myself for a fall.''

Mr Chamberlain gave a personal message.

''You need to share what you are doing as volunteers with someone, 'cos most people in this room will be dealing with the tragic side of doing it - you need to communicate that, if you bottle it up it will come back and haunt you.''

He said people should ask themselves: what are the different methods for dealing with stress in my life? Are those methods working? Are they safe for me and others around me?

And are these strategies for coping a positive influence, and are they sustainable?

He said going home and having a gin every night is fine, but if you're having six, you might need to do something about it.

Some of the strategies used by attendees included listening to music, reading, guided meditation, exercise and breathing techniques, but there were those who internalised it before needing to talk it out.

Mr Chamberlain said a lot of people in the community were in need.

''Mental unwellness is not a weakness - it's no different to us waking up with a sore stomach or getting a sore leg after a jog.''

He said there was always going to be some people who needed professional help, but there was a basic level to being well.

''I thought I was 10-foot tall and could take everyone's problems on my shoulders, but I don't think anyone can.

''We need to look after ourselves.''

Learn to say no to others, to allow time for yourself, be disciplined with your time to make time for yourself, don't be afraid of making changes when things no longer feel right, surround yourself with honest people and find an outlet that allows you to switch off.


If you, or anyone you know want to talk to someone about mental wellness, there are a number of people trained to help.The Ministry of Health has set up a free service, in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, offering a free service for people feeling anxious, overwhelmed, out of sorts or depressed.

Text or call 1737 any time, 24 hours a day.

Other numbers:
Lifeline (24 hours) 0800543354
Youthline (11am to 11pm) 0800376633
Rural Support Trust 0800787254
Depression Helpline 0800111757

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