I feel that the compassion and kindness of a nation should be judged on how we care for our most vulnerable. I’d encourage anybody who’s reflecting on similar possibilities to connect with us and share in both directions.
Watch this 1News video that gives you some insight into the life-saving mental health refuge that's helped thousands of New Zealanders.
Jamie Allen and his family began building Taranaki Retreat, a suicide prevention sanctuary, in 2014, with the help of the local community. While supporting families bereaved by suicide in his work as a church minister, he saw a deficit in the system. Jamie says “The common experience was that their loved one hadn’t been quite ill enough, didn’t meet a certain threshold, and as a result, there was a long waiting list for clinical services.” He says there can be too many obstacles for those in distress to get help, before it’s too late.
Taranaki Retreat is a residential support space where families and individuals having a tough time can come and have some time-out, free of charge. “When you are in that vulnerable space, you need there to be no obstacles at all, a really easy threshold to cross. Not necessarily where you’re dangling off a cliff-top – we’re keen to stop anybody ever having to reach that terrible point of attempting to take their own life,” says Jamie.
Taranaki Retreat’s programme is entirely built around suicide prevention and postvention. “We work towards a future where there is no suicide.” Jamie isn’t sure if there is another facility like this, focused solely on this kaupapa. “We looked at a lot of models around the world. We wanted to provide something that is free and accessible (without having to go through an elaborate referral process) one that provides a trauma-informed environment that is peer-led.”
Jamie says it’s critical for people experiencing mental distress to speak with someone who has walked a similar path, “Those who’ve navigated the journey so that you feel really understood, heard and not judged. You can be reassured that you can get through this and be ok.”
A key part of the retreat’s environment is the presence of pets. Many past guests mention the animals on-site as being a great source of comfort. “There’s something about the non-judgemental and reassuring presence of these beauties that really helps.”
Since the retreats began operating in 2017, Taranaki Retreat has worked with over 5,000 people. Jamie says, “Every single one of them is a voice that changes, affects and reshapes how we do what we do. We’re constantly doing things differently. That’s so important to us, it’s part of our healing model, the model is constantly being evaluated and changed.” Jamie cites the rapid change of pace in today’s world. “My 19 year old compared to my 14 year old’s experience, and how, for example, their internet and social media experience was so different, in just that area. If we keep doing the same things that we were doing five years ago, in the same style, then we’re not going to be able to address the stressors that are right here and now.”
Taranaki Retreat runs many outreach projects, with schools, early childhood education centers, the local DHB and local businesses.
”The Carepacks initiative is where someone who has ended up in the emergency department in suicidal distress, or in ICU following a suicide attempt, gets this beautifully handmade pack of lovingly made things. Journals, pens, handmade gifts, vouchers, and a handwritten card from somebody who’s been in exactly that space, saying ‘Hey, I’ve sat where you’re sitting right now’,” says Jamie. A booklet of useful information on resources for the individual and their whānau is also included. The feedback from people who have received this taonga has been overwhelmingly positive. It has meant a lot to them. Not only does it make them feel seen and cared for, it’s also a doorway to accessing other support. “We’d love to see it happening in other DHBs,” says Jamie. “ It’s a beautiful piece of suicide prevention work.”
Their latest project, in partnership with the local council, is the Kinda Café, a community drop-in hub and sober socialising space that will soon launch in New Plymouth’s CBD. It will provide information and support to those going through challenging times. “There are a lot of resources available for people when things are going to custard, but research isn’t the easiest thing to do when you’re in that situation. How can we help you to get across that threshold,” says Jamie. It will house a creative hub, providing an opportunity for people to work alongside a peer support worker and find a creative outlet to benefit their mental health, for example journaling, textile design, painting and drawing. A koha system will operate for nutritious, homemade kai. Peer-support listening will be available to anyone who needs it.
“There’s something really exciting about this model, it’s beautiful because it’s the community’s gift to the community," says Jamie. “I’d encourage anybody who’s reflecting on similar possibilities to connect with us and share in both directions. I feel that the compassion and kindness of a nation should be judged on how we care for our most vulnerable.”