A Bit Mental (Lilo The Waikato)

Lilo The Waikato
Image credit: Lilo The Waikato (used with permission)

Yesterday I watched a great piece of television, and what’s more it was on mainstream television channel TV3.  The scheduling wasn’t great but at least it got there.  The programme was all about raising awareness of depression, and that has to be a great thing.  If you want to watch it, here’s the link.  It will be there for a couple of weeks.

Inside New Zealand – A Bit Mental – Special – On Demand – TV3.

Location map of Waikato River, North Island, N...
Location map of Waikato River, North Island, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Bit Mental is a documentary about Jimi Hunt, a New Zealand man who has struggled with depression for two years.  As part of his recovery he created a challenge for himself of travelling down New Zealand’s Waikato River… on a $8 lilo air mattress (in other words cheap!)… and in doing so raising awareness for depression.  If you’re not sure what a lilo is, that’s the yellow thing Jimi is floating on in the picture above.  Just plastic and air.  He went through 11 in the whole trip as he succumbed to punctures.

He described it as:

“a ridiculous journey to raise awareness for a super serious problem.”

For those in other parts of the world, the Waikato River is our longest river at 425 kilometres.  There is some gorgeous scenery but some very serious white water known as the Huka Falls, as well as a few hydro power stations to get through.  In other words it’s a crazy journey that no one had done before on a flimsy plastic lilo, but Jimi did it.  The link above will give you the full story.

Jimi was told by his doctor that his depression had a chemical basis, rather than psychological and so his recovery was about correcting that chemical balance.  I admit I was slightly concerned when he commented that he wasn’t bad enough to need medication.  It was one of those things that just didn’t sit right with me.  Maybe because I was ‘bad enough’ to need medication.  Was he saying that because I needed depression I was much worse?  To me, I was just different.  I decided to drop the issue in my head, maybe I was seeing things that weren’t there (it happens often!).

Back to Jimi’s recovery, he was challenged by his doctor to get some exercise, get fit and set some goals.  And so Lilo The Waikato was born with his aim to raise awareness for depression and funds for Lifeline (a 24 hour telephone counselling line).

The Huka Falls, Waikato, New Zealand
The Huka Falls, Waikato, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thing I really liked was that along the journey Jimi set himself up so that he had to ask for help, something which he recognised as key to his recovery, and something that he took a while to learn.  He had to ask for accommodation (the journey took about two weeks) and meals.  He had to ask for the occasional tow.

It was a practical reminder of how asking for help is so important when struggling with depression, and mental illness.  I guess it rang home to me because it is something that I recognise I have struggled with at different parts of my mental illness journey.  Some parts would have been so much easier, and less painful had I asked for help at the time.  Jimi recognised it as something that would have made a big difference to his recovery too.

What Jimi did was pretty amazing.  You wouldn’t get too many people who would take on such a challenge, let alone while raising awareness for mental illness.  And what’s more, there were many people (including more than 20,000 Facebook followers who encouraged, supported and followed his journey).

All this got me wondering, as I watched the programme, what awareness and support could be raised for other mental illnesses?  There is no official hierarchy of mental illnesses, but I’m inclined to think that depression is a little more ‘acceptable’ to the general public than other mental illnesses.  So what if there was a person with say, Schizophrenia or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) who could raise this kind of acceptance?  Would it work?  Would the general public just say “s/he’s crazy”?

No doubt plenty of people said that Jimi was crazy.  It’s certainly not something that I would choose to do.  But people got behind him and supported his cause.  It would be great to see more people backing a greater awareness of all mental illness.

Currently there is a woman, Annie Chapman, who is walking the length of the North Island – using the Te Araroa Trail (1600 kilometres), here in New Zealand to raise awareness of the need for better treatment options for those with mental illnesses.  It’s a completely different undertaking being a protest walk (known here as a hikoi) with community meetings along the way.  What interests me is that her Facebook followers amount to under 200.

Why is there such a difference in support?  I guess there are a lot of reasons, but I wonder whether the need to ask for help when you’re battling depression is more acceptable somehow to the public than the nitty-gritty of treatment options for all mental illness.  I don’t know, and perhaps I’m not being fair, but it does raise the question of what is acceptable to the public and what is too much?

What I do know is that what these two people, and probably others I haven’t heard about, are doing is fantastic.  Whatever is done to make mental illness easier to talk about, and more widely acceptable has to be great.

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” 

―    Friedrich Nietzsche