Voices of Hope is a mental health advocacy group for young people, by young people. It’s important we give this generation the language to speak up, they say.
Genevieve Mora, 25-year-old co-founder of Voices of Hope (VOH), makes it clear that you don’t have to go through mental illness yourself to support someone who is suffering. ‘Just be there. And don’t judge,’ she says.
And Genevieve would know, because as a teenager she was in and out of hospital with anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But the support and care she received from family, friends and professionals saved and changed her life.
A survivor of mental illness, Gen now actively pursues wellness using a variety of mental health strategies. Together with Jazz Thornton (24), Gen spends her days championing hope and promoting wellbeing for all New Zealanders.
Following the tragic suicide of one of Jazz’s friends, Gen messaged Jazz who was on the other side of the world, saying: ‘Hey I’m really sick of hearing stories like this. I’ve had my own battle with mental illness and I’d really like to do something about it!’
Jazz agreed emphatically, and Voices of Hope was born with the website fully launched in January 2017. The mission of VOH is to provide hope for those struggling with mental health issues by promoting mental wellbeing, empowerment and recovery.
CREATIVITY AND COLLABORATION
Collaborating with other mental health organisations, partnering with community groups and corporate sponsors, speaking at schools and events both here and overseas, Gen and Jazz are making a difference.
‘Last year when VOH was on tour around New Zealand, a young woman came up to me and said, “You’ve just saved my life. I know I’m not alone now—other people feel like this too—someone understands what I’m going through”,’ Gen reports.
VOH uses a variety of creative platforms to get their important message out to those who need it most—with social media being the key space for the exceptional video content they create.
‘We create content that tells the stories of those with lived experience—from a place of wellness. We ask people to share what they’ve been through, their recovery journey and the practical tools they use to support wellness. For some that’s music or journaling—it’s different for everyone—but the aim is that people watching will think, “Oh wow, she had severe depression, but she got through it—so I can too. There is hope for me”.’
VOH also produces and shares podcasts, as well as written contributions from those with lived experience, clinical psychologists and other professionals. But it’s the video content that has the greatest impact. Jazz studied directing and is now a professional documentary maker. A graduate of South Seas Film School (NZ), she’s had plenty of her old classmates contribute to VOH’s work in recent years.
‘It’s such a simple way to give people hope and it reaches all over the world,’ Gen says. ‘A mother contacted us from Canada because her daughter had been planning to take her life, but after watching one of our videos instead said, “Mum, I’m not doing well”.’
SO, WHAT DOES HOPE LOOK LIKE?
Genevieve explains that, ‘without hope there’s nothing. When you’re fighting mental illness, it can feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. And if you’ve lost hope it’s so much harder to recover. So, we say, in order to fight, you must know what you’re fighting for.
Helping people define hope and embrace it is big for us—fundamental. For some it’s as basic as believing they can get through the day. And then the next day. It’s holding onto the hope that life will get better. The hope of a better relationship or freedom from addiction. Hope for the future. Hope needs to have substance if it’s to save lives.’
Gen is passionate about making sure everyone—especially young people—understand that mental health is a continuum.
‘We all have mental health,’ she says, ‘but we’re not all mentally unwell. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be intentional about looking after our mental health. Life isn’t perfect and we all have the potential to fall into unwellness. Life gets messy and we experience pitfalls and sometimes even challenges that threaten to overwhelm us. So, we need to look after ourselves, and each other.’
Some worry that millennials have a propensity to over-identify with mental illness because of social media and easy access to information. But Genevieve is not convinced.
‘My generation is the first to grow up with language around mental health—which is a good thing. Some might argue that talking about mental illness and suicide can give people ideas, but I would counter with the statement that having a language that makes talking about mental health easier is a no-brainer. We’re finally talking about things that were once kept quiet! We are a very informed generation who can connect easily without being face to face—which means we can also get the help and tools out to people who are struggling,’ she explains. ‘So, why would we go back to silence and misinformation?’
When we put our hope in Christ, we’re putting our hope in a person who provides hope through his Holy Spirit. Now that’s concrete assurance of hope! Talk to your youth pastor or officer today to know more.
Tips for supporting a friend who’s struggling
- Be there. Listen. Don’t judge. Love.
- Remember that you don’t have to have all the answers to be supportive.
- Ask your friend questions about how you can help—don’t assume anything.
- Brainstorm sources of distress/triggers together.
- Discuss the symptoms they are experiencing.
- Remind them of their value to you, and of things they are good at.
- Help them picture the future and define hope.
- Encourage communication and check in to see how they are tracking.
- Learn about mental illness from a reputable source like VOH or www.depression.org
- Remind them of other safe people they can talk to—a GP, youth worker, counsellor.
- Go with them to see a professional if that’s the difference between them going or not.
- Reach out to adults or parents if you’re really concerned about disturbing or life-threatening behaviours (your friend will thank you in the long run).
- Take care of your own mental wellbeing.
- Pray. It’s not a little thing—it’s a powerful weapon that can make a huge difference!
Please remember that as a support person, if things escalate for your friend, the responsibility for recovery and wellness lies primarily within their own actions. You’re a friend, not a trained professional, so concentrate on being a friend. If you’re concerned for their safety make sure you seek medical advice.