Community-led report highlights ways to improve mental wellbeing in the Southern Lakes region
Summaries of the co-design process and the Expert Design Challenge are available here:
Background and key findings
Community-led wellbeing initiatives are vital elements in alleviating the mental health impacts of COVID-19, according to reports commissioned by the Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group in late 2021.
The reports show that continuing to foster initiatives that improve social connections, support and broader equity and inclusion helps build longer-term community resilience. And they point to locally-driven projects as the bedrock of the recovery, resilience and future wellbeing of the Southern Lakes community.
Local initiatives have enabled better promotion of exercise and social recreation, access to authentic peer-to-peer sharing and conversation, and easier access to counsellors. Direct one-to-one support for business owners covering both self-management and business management was also referenced frequently.
The report notes that pre-existing deficiencies in core social infrastructure have been exacerbated by COVID. While many of these issues fall outside the scope of Te Hau Toka’s funding ability, the group hopes they will provide important context and evidence for other organisations to use for future planning.
The report suggests that the best way to alleviate the mental health impacts of COVID is to bolster existing community initiatives and support the development of new approaches that communities see as beneficial. Ideally, these diverse community projects will be supported by an overarching story that “shines a light on the connectedness and togetherness of the people” and celebrates the powerful possibilities that COVID has opened up for the Southern Lakes region.
The report was co-designed by the community and experts to determine the mental wellbeing challenges facing communities in the Southern Lakes region as a result of COVID-19. It gathered ideas from the Te Anau, Cromwell, Wānaka and Queenstown communities about how Te Hau Toka could best help support their mental wellbeing.
Leadership Lab was commissioned by Te Hau Toka to manage the co-design process and produce a report providing a clear community voice and expert analysis. The findings were informed by three strands of enquiry:
- A Listening Team process which gathered the perceptions of affected communities
- Exploring the insights and perceptions of community-based service providers
- An Expert Design Challenge drawing on the knowledge of people with direct experience of supporting communities dealing with COVID or other relevant disasters
The Listening Team comprised 14 local community members from different geographic and demographic areas who conducted 267 conversations with individuals and small groups across the Southern Lakes communities. It targeted five priority groups – youth, migrants, businesses, older people, and new parents. The conversations explored challenges to the individuals’ mental wellbeing in the COVID-19 context and ideas they thought would be helpful.
Community-based service providers were surveyed and results aligned with the Listening Team results, adding more insight into the availability and usefulness of services.
The Expert Design Challenge ran in parallel to the co-design process. Contributors with experience and expertise in areas ranging from Clinical Psychology, Mental Health, and Population Health, through to Anthropology, Whanau Ora Commissioning, Nutrition and Human Performance, and Disaster Recovery were selected and invited to participate.
Key challenges identified through the community listening process were a lack of social connection, anxiety/stress/uncertainty, financial challenges, reduced wellbeing/health, lack of counselling/health facilities, whānau stress, visa/employer challenges, lack of Information, and vaccination disputes.
Community ideas for addressing challenges were fostering social connection, support for wellbeing, physical health, and childcare, birthing/antenatal, migrant and other practical supports.
While COVID has highlighted shortcomings in the social infrastructure, it has also stimulated a wide range of positive and, in many cases, inspiring responses.
People in all areas referenced the benefits of more family time and more space for social connection and conversation. They talked about the support they received from whānau, friends, neighbours, schools, counsellors, youth workers, community events and community organisations. Financial stress has been a central issue for many, with the business and migrant communities noting that COVID relief packages and financial support have been “life-savers”.
COVID has also prompted a number of people to take stock of their lives and reset and re-evaluate their future goals and plans. While many businesses have struggled, some have evolved new and more sustainable business models. There is also an emerging awareness of the need for change in the region’s broader economy.
A Recommendations Framework has been developed based on the combined findings. It outlines how Te Hau Toka could best support communities to look after their own, and each other’s, mental wellbeing with ideas from the community and experts on how to maximise change.
The framework is being used to form an action plan with short, medium and longer term initiatives to improve community wellbeing. This will help Te Hau Toka allocate its funding in the most impactful way and in alignment with the three ‘Promotion and Prevention’ Focus Areas of the Kia Kaha, Kia Māia, Kia Ora Aotearoa Plan (page 7).
Initiatives already in place include Te Hau Toka’s Connecting Communities fund, extra Mental Wellbeing Navigators for the region, improved communication, and better access to information about services and support. The Traffic Light Guide, in particular, has been seen as a helpful resource which other regions, including Dunedin, West Coast and North Canterbury have replicated. Te Hau Toka is also working with a range of partners on larger projects.