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Cool Change NZ: Daughters honour their fathers’ memories with mental health campaign

Grace Curtis with her father John.

Cool Change NZ: Daughters honour their fathers’ memories with mental health campaign

This World Suicide Prevention Day, we talk to Grace Curtis, co-founder of mental health movement Cool Change NZ, about her experience with grief and her advice to those affected by mental illness and suicide.

Cool Change NZ: Daughters honour their fathers’ memories with mental health campaign

After losing her father John to suicide early this year, 22-year-old Grace Curtis turned to Tori Wheelans and Georgia Harris for advice on how to get through the unbearable first few weeks without her dad. Wheelans and Harris, both 24, had also been devastated by the sudden deaths of their own fathers. United in their grief, the young women became determined to make a difference. “We decided we wanted to turn our pain into action to help others around us struggling,” says Curtis.

The women created Cool Change NZ – Facebook and Instagram pages that serve as platforms for the women to speak out about their grief, to discuss how to get through trauma, and to campaign for change. Cool Change is named after the song that played at Curtis’ father’s funeral, and Curtis has said the name has a double meaning in that it’s time for New Zealand to have its own cool change when it comes to mental health. Our campaign is driven by emotions – we have publicly spoken of our suffering and we are so pleased to realise the support that came following this,” Curtis says. “We hope everyone has the strength to reach out. It can change your life for the better.”

Georgia Harris with her father Sydney.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, a day to highlight the devastating effects of suicide and to encourage people to work together to support those affected by it. On this important day, Curtis wants people who are struggling with their mental health to know that they are not alone. “The three of us have experienced extreme loss, sadness, stress and other hinderers of joy and happiness, but we are going to get through this tough time, and you can too,” she says. “Our biggest advice that we advocate for is to talk – it is a great healer.” Curtis offers a quotation that resonates with the three Cool Change NZ founders: “Even in your darkest day or darkest hour, which I’ve had a few by now, there is nothing worth losing your precious life over.”

The fight against mental health stigma is ongoing, and even Curtis admits that she misunderstood anxiety and depression until she herself experienced it. When it comes to supporting family members or friends facing mental health issues, Curtis has an important word of advice: patience. “To have understanding of these very prevalent disorders, which can be present in many ways, is to listen and learn,” she says. “Nearly everyone will experience symptoms of anxiety and depression during their life, and they can be very misunderstood, so please be patient and soon it may become apparent what your friend or family member may need. To further this, do not lose hope, ever!”

Tori Wheelans and her father.

For those who have been bereaved by suicide, Curtis says there is no rule book for coping with the trauma. But from her own experience, she has learnt the importance of being kind to yourself. “Allow yourself to feel however you may be feeling, whether it be happy or sad; there is no reason to feel guilt,” she says. Curtis invites anyone grappling with a devastating loss to visit the Cool Change NZ Facebook and Instagram pages. “Please come and join us on our journey of bereavement that we are still very much living and adapting to as time passes. Bereavement never leaves you, but you can learn to ride the wave of grief.”

 

Anyone who may be feeling distressed can contact the following organisations for support –

New Zealand:

Lifeline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Depression Helpline 0800 111 757 or text 4202

Youthline 0800 376 633

Australia:

SANE Helpline 1800 18 72 63

Lifeline 131 114

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

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