Reikorangi Ellison started drinking alcohol at the age of 14. He would persuade his friends to drink. “I myself was the instigator, drank to numb the pain,” he says. “Some drank to deal with whatever they are dealing with.”
By the age of 18 he was father to a baby boy. His son turns 10 this month. The boy lives in Australia. Reikorangi, now 28, is fighting an emotional battle, not being able to see his eldest child.
He spends two weeks with his boy every year, and it’s depressing. “I haven’t seen my son for about a year, he lives in Australia with his mum, it is hard for me. When he does visit, it is always a tough time for me when he leaves.”
Ellison lived in Australia for five years before returning to Rarotonga – and decided to make a change to his life.
“We are surrounded with alcohol,” he says.
So he cut back his alcohol consumption, and now focuses on his construction business and providing for his three younger boys and his wife. He surrounds himself with friends who encourage him.
This month Reikorangi and his brother Raniera Ellison, Luther Berg and Joshua Utanga have set up a Movember group focused on fighting for mental health here in Rarotonga.
They have been raising awareness and raising money for the Creative Centre. On the weekend, the young men and their supporters took to the streets and ran a 32-kilometre “Brolay” around Rarotonga.
Last Thursday, Ellison told some of his story to about 60 people who joined the friends for Broga – a big yoga class in the Dome to fundraise for mental health. He told of how his close friends had helped along the way.
He spoke of how important it is for men to speak out and share what they are facing.
Clinical psychologist Dr Evangelene Daniela-Wong commends the Movember group for speaking up on men’s mental health.
“I think what they are doing is great,” she says. “It is really wonderful that people are coming together and sharing what they are going through.”
The world-famous Dunedin Longitudinal Study following 1000 New Zealand babies born in 1972 and 1973 shows more than 80 per cent of people will have a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their life.
Dr Jesse Kakaua’s 2009 study into Cook Islanders in New Zealand showed 29 per cent experienced mental illness in a 12 month period – nearly one in three people, every year.
Dr Daniela-Wong says in Cook Islands there were 191 people treated last year for severe ongoing mental health issues; 44 per cent of them were men. She believes the lower number of men reporting for help might be because men were reluctant to speak out or seek health support. The mental issues they faced were mostly anxiety, depression and insomnia and dementia.
The numbers this year are on the increase, she says. That may not be all bad news: in part, they are seeing an increase in the number of people who are becoming aware of mental health concerns and services, and are seeking support.
Punanga Tauturu Inc coordinator Rebeka Buchanan also acknowledges the work of Reikorangi and his friends in raising awareness. She says young men who are in and out of prison are those who are in particular need of support.
There needs to be more plans put in place to support the mental health of prison inmates, to ensure the programmes are actually working, and to look at long term solutions.
This Friday, the Ministry of Health will consider a strategic plan for 2020-24. Dr Daniela-Wong is calling on people who wish to give their thoughts to call the Tupapa clinic on 29119, and ask for the mental health team.
Reikorangi still enjoys a beer – but he doesn’t believe in drinking so much that he can’t function any more. It’s not healthy, he says.
“For myself it’s an ongoing battle.
“I’ve been through my fair share of demons – I want to give back to my community and this is something I can relate to.”
There was a turning point, when he realised the healing he needed was within himself. He was supported by his family and counsellors but he believed he personally had to fight the demon – and that was a stepping stone.
This Saturday, November 16, the Movember team have organised a clean-up day from Avana to the Avarua Wharf and the Nikao social centre. They invite as many people as possible to help out – meet at the Avana Christian Church at 6am Saturday.