04:02pm Saturday 06 June 2020

Mental health – a community issue

Associate Professor Catharine Coleborne from the University of Waikato told a capacity audience at the second of the university’s Winter Lecture Series that New Zealand embraced the British form of mental health care and built asylums for the mentally ill, but she also pointed out that new immigrants in colonial New Zealand “who went mad” did not have families or support networks around them.

Mental health Mental health: MC Professor Lynda Johnston (left) with Associate Professor Catharine Colborne, Denise L’Estrange-Corbet, Dr Nicola Starkey and Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford.

History of mental health

Dr Coleborne said our mental institutions were not all bad, and that the history of mental health was geographically and spatially bound up and shaped by the terms of the day. She said that people weren’t simply locked up, but rather institutions had “a revolving door” where patients came and went and visitors were usually welcomed.

Depression as a child

World fashion founder and CEO Denise L’Estrange-Corbet told the audience about her upbringing, how her depression as a child went undiagnosed and how she often had “wanted to disappear”.

“The mind is a wicked thing,” she said. “It makes us what we are – good and bad. We can’t take bits of it away or fix a department.” Medication, she said, had been her saviour for clinical depression.

Traumatic brain injury

Dr Nicola Starkey, a specialist in neuropsychology and psychological assessment in the University’s School of Psychology has been part of a major study of traumatic brain injury (TBI) funded by the Health Research Council. She said this invisible epidemic was the leading cause of long-term disability in children and young adults and by 2020 TBI it was likely to be the third greatest global burden of disease.

Her research looked at 1600 cases of TBI in the space of a year in Hamilton and the Waikato, surveying sufferers at baseline, one, six and 12 months.

She said men were twice as likely as women to suffer TBI. For children and young people, it was mainly falls, and in the middle years it was often transport and mechanical injuries, including sports and falling objects. “About 20 per cent of people show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and another 20 per cent suffer clinical levels of depression.”

No immediate signs of damage

Dr Starkey said after a brain injury, because there are often no outward or immediate signs of damage, many people don’t know that they can get help. She said TBI often went undiagnosed yet the effects could be very serious as people’s behaviours could dramatically change.

“And the evidence suggests that the younger the age of injury, the worse the effects can be, sometimes not showing up until much later…what we do know is that there needs to be greater support for individuals and their families.”

The third in the University of Waikato Winter Lecture Series takes place next Wednesday at the University of Waikato’s Academy of Performing Arts at 6pm. The topic will be Education and three academics will give different classroom perspectives – digital technology, creative learning and classroom trends.

The University of Waikato

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