Highlands supports new mental health initiatives for Cromwell students

Since he opened Highlands in 2013, Tony Quinn has been committed to giving back to the Cromwell community that has been so supportive. Quinn, through Highlands has committed to funding mental health first aid workshops for local Cromwell school students and pay for a social worker to work in the community for the next five years.

It’s no secret that New Zealand faces a mental health challenge, particularly amongst its young people. New Zealand has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world and a shortage of resources to provide education and support.

“This initiative will help a lot of young people and families in the local community,” says Quinn. “If we can save one life, then it will be worthwhile. I lost a daughter to cancer when she was 40 and for any parent to bury their child is a hugely traumatic thing to go through. As a community, we want to try and avoid that at all costs.”

Tamah Alley is a former local Police Youth Aid Officer, a councillor at Central Otago District Council and also sits on the board of the Cromwell Youth Trust. When she heard Highlands were keen to get involved in a mental health initiative it was something she was 100 per cent behind.

“It’s needed everywhere, not just in Cromwell,” says Alley, “Our community and young people face challenges that have been heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdowns and uncertainty of the pandemic have exacerbated the mental health challenges facing our young people and their families. Wait lists to see mental health clinicians are massive and our location means we don’t have access to the same services available in other parts of the country.”

Highlands supports new mental health initiatives for Cromwell students

Highlands CEO, Josie Spillane was given the task of making Quinn’s vision a reality. “Our team is part of this community. Our kids go to school in Cromwell, play sports for the local teams and so we’re very aware they are growing up at a time when they are dealing with some very adult themes!  We wanted to ensure that every child gets the right tools from the beginning – to set them up for life, and ensure that as parents and a community we have those tools to support them too. A lot of things I’ve learnt about mental health in my adult life, would have been very helpful to learn as a teenager! ”

Spillane went to the local schools and together with Cromwell College, Goldfields Primary School, Cromwell Primary School and Cromwell Youth Trust (CYT)  identified an urgent need for a social worker in schools. They will be instrumental in creating a safe and supportive environment for young people and to facilitate prevention initiatives as early as possible.

One of the key roles of the social worker will be to support families to access assistance, support networks and information about their rights and entitlements, with a particular focus on mental health and education.

They will also act as an advocate for families, children and young people when engaging with social services, including supporting them to build resilience, improving school attendance, and increasing community engagement and a feeling of belonging for families.

TQ and the Highlands team have never been about the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, so an important part of playing a role in the mental health and wellbeing of the community was ensuring a holistic approach to their support.  The funding from Highlands will also pay for a series of ASK Schools Programs in 2022 to connect with students around mental health through engagement and activities.

These programs teach the skills to offer early intervention for someone developing a mental health problem, experiencing a worsening mental health problem or someone in a mental health crisis. The aim is to reduce the needs of other services through early intervention, whilst also working alongside agencies and community leaders to provide a strong support network for children and their families.

“This initiative will make a tangible difference to the lives of many families in Cromwell,” says Tamah Alley. “Community mental health and wellbeing is a collective responsibility, not just the responsibility of the mental health sector. This is the first time I’ve heard of a private business funding something like this. It would be great if it was the kickstart for other businesses to step up and help their own local communities. I’m sure there are other businesses around the country who are in a good place financially who would be able to do something similar.”

“There are a lot of businesses who support mental health in different ways. What I think is great about what Tony Quinn is doing is that notion of really making a difference in your local community.”

For further information

Josie Spillane