Sir John Kirwan’s Mitey Quest

Sir John Kirwan’s Mitey Quest
  • Written by
  • Abby Beswick

Sir John Kirwan is a man on a mission.

The All Blacks legend and mental health advocate is passionately and quite literally driving for change to our alarming mental health statistics.

When we speak, Sir John has just returned home after completing his landmark Mitey Drive around the country. The two-week, 2100km journey raised awareness and $970,000 for an issue he cares deeply about – youth mental health.

The money will be used to expand the Mitey initiative that teaches primary school children about protecting their emotional wellbeing.

NZ’s health crisis 

Disturbingly, we have one of the worst mental health statistics in the OECD, including a particularly high youth suicide rate. In a recent survey commissioned by Sir John, 60% of people said the country simply isn’t doing enough to improve the mental wellbeing of children.

Young people are suffering, and we need to turn things around, says Sir John. “Our goal is we want to go from one of the worst mental health stats in the developed world to one of the best. A lot of the services are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

How do we put a fence at the top of the cliff and then how do we move that fence back?”

“I think mental health is the biggest issue moving forward for the medical system, for the future of our kids.”

A fresh approach 

Sir John wants mental health education to start early so our children have the skills and tools needed to tackle the emotional challenges of modern life. That’s where Mitey comes in.

Mitey was developed over two years by the Sir John Kirwan Foundation, with input from specialists at the University of Auckland. The programme is taught as part of the curriculum, enabling children to learn about resilience and mental health at school every day, just like literacy and maths.

“Research shows us that if we can teach the ‘ABC of mental health’, consistently, to children when they’re young – they will understand how to manage life’s ups and downs, and they’ll have better empathy for others who may be having a tough time.

It’s also important to him that Mitey is introduced into the curriculum without burdening schools. “We can’t put any extra pressure on schools

from a financial or a human resource point of view so what we do is we pay for the coaches who go in and upskill the teachers.”

Currently provided to children in Years 1-8 at 70 primary and intermediate schools, the money raised by the Mitey Drive will be used to expand the programme, to 40 new schools across New Zealand, benefitting 11,000 kids.

Looking after his own mental health 

Sir John’s personal struggles with anxiety and depression have been well documented. Since making the decision to speak publicly, he has become the face of mental health and helped shift the stigma associated with it. In 2012 he was knighted for his work in the sector.

While he’s happy, healthy and thriving today, looking after his own mental health remains a top priority. To help, he uses the app Groov (which Sir John co-founded) that provides users with tools and strategies to support their emotional wellbeing. “I have a daily mental health plan and I put my mental health first. I follow the six pillars (of mental wellbeing) every day”.

Reading, cooking, enjoying a coffee and putting down his phone are all things Sir John does on a daily basis, which make a huge difference to his emotional wellbeing.

“Blissfully average” 

Sir John admits he doesn’t have all the answers, but he refuses to accept the current situation when it comes to our mental health. Through his Foundation’s work, he wants to get Mitey into every school in New Zealand and to turn our mental health statistics around within a decade.

“And my personal goal is to grow as a person, and put my mental health first, to be a great dad and a great husband.”

“I see myself as really really normal – blissfully average.”

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