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New mental wellbeing navigator appointed for Central Lakes region

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Central Lakes communities will continue to be supported through the long tail of COVID-related impacts with a regional mental wellbeing navigator confirmed for a third year.

Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group has appointed Ella Hitchcock as its new Central Lakes Mental Wellbeing Navigator.  Her role covers the Central Lakes region, providing information about how people can help themselves and others, raising awareness of the supports available, and helping connect people to them.  She will also work closely with agencies and networks to help co-ordinate an overall picture of needs and mental health service capacity, facilitate connections, and work collaboratively on wellbeing initiatives.

Ella takes up the baton from Lisa Gear who recently moved over to Central Lakes Family Services to lead its new Perinatal, Infant and Child Service (PICS).

A passionate advocate for mental health and wellbeing, social justice and community success, Ella brings a diverse lens and skillset to the role.  Her experience ranges from community development, LGBTQ+ support, and Māori and Pasifika support to event management, student pastoral care, and community service, including disaster and humanitarian relief volunteering for the Lions.

Her qualifications include a double degree in Law and Health Science, majoring in Public Health. This gives her a broad knowledge base across public health, health promotion and equity, hauora Māori, community development, social work, health policy, human rights, medico-law, and the socioeconomic and geopolitical implications on health, wellbeing and community success. She’s also been a recipient of the University of Otago Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship and has completed two years of te reo Māori.

Te Hau Toka Chair Adell Cox says the group is excited to welcome Ella and believes that her passion, skills and knowledge, particularly in youth advocacy and care, will strengthen the team.

“Ella brings a fresh perspective and real insights into the difficulties our young people are facing.  This will be particularly helpful as we focus on rolling out initiatives like the Youth Mental Health First Aid Programme.”

Ms Cox says that the impacts of COVID have amplified some of the pre-existing challenges the region faced as well as bringing new ones which is why Te Hau Toka has extended its support of the navigator role.

“There’s been a lot of great mahi so far but there’s still a lot to do to help our communities recover. Our primary goal is to keep people well before they get to the stage of needing acute clinical care so promotion, prevention and early intervention are key.  We need to keep the spotlight on why it’s so important for people to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing and encourage them to seek help early so that they receive the right supports to get them back on track.

“Having someone who can navigate the system and act as a connector has proven to be really helpful.

Ella originally hails from Oamaru but her family has always had deep community ties to the region and she will be living full-time in Queenstown.

She’s keen to “get stuck in” and is looking forward to working with the Te Hau Toka team and building a strong network of relationships with healthcare and social agencies, community groups and leaders.

“I’m passionate about bringing the joy in tough times and thoroughly enjoy working alongside communities to help improve their health and wellbeing.  I also want to find opportunities to create meaningful, equitable and sustainable change in this space, from grassroots prevention to national policy.”

The Mental Wellbeing Navigator role will be funded by the Te Hau Toka group and work out of the Central Lakes Family Services offices across the region.