Brendon Adams raises money for mental health groups. Photo: Supplied.

A driving force for health

Mental Health Awareness Week is on until 25 September Here mental health advocate Brendon Adams from Blenheim highlights his journey and why he wants to help.

 

What inspires you to help raise awareness for mental health? 

Up until 2010, I had very little appreciation or knowledge of what mental wellbeing was.  You could say I experienced an awakening.  From that moment I got to meet and talk to a wide variety of people working within our current mental health system.  From high-level psychiatrists, the many branches of social services, and the many people living with a vast array of mental health matters.  I have no doubt my 10-year experience has been my driving force and inspiration to continue to help raise awareness for mental health.

 

What have been your goals to raise awareness for wellbeing? 

I was 37 years old when I first learned anything about the topic.  I felt I could have been better equipped with some form of prior knowledge.  That’s not to say that the information wasn’t around, more so to speak to the fact that the subject was seldom spoken about.  Almost considered Taboo.  Making it ok to talk about mental health and wellbeing and being comfortable doing so would be one of my main goals.  It’s ok to not be ok, and it’s ok to talk about it.   To help others will always be my primary goal.

 

What are some of the main concerns our mental health systems faces? 

I guess the most obvious concern to me would be the apparent lack of resources available to cope with the demand for our mental health system.  It seems to be the poor cousin of our general health system.  It is often very hard to convince people to seek help for themselves or loved ones especially when they’ve tried and have been turned away because the problem doesn’t appear to be big enough.  This will often lead to a problem exacerbating.   Then the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff type scenario plays out and the help is often too little too late.  This seems to be prevalent with men in particular.  Men generally struggle to talk about their feelings and what’s going on for them.  They tend to bottle things up or their situation is played down.

 

What are key signs that a person may be suffering from mental health, both what to look out for in ourselves and in others? 

Signs may include the following.  Don’t want to see their friends or no longer enjoy spending time with their friends and family.  Stop doing things they used to love or don’t seem to be enjoying themselves.  Can’t remember things, concentrate, or pay attention.  Feel bad about themselves – guilty, worthless, or ashamed.  Have a big change in eating patterns or appetite.  Have extreme mood swings.  Feel hopeless or really sad, or cry a lot.  Feel anxious, stressed, nervous, or scared a lot and can’t seem to relax.  Are not happy unless they’re using drugs or alcohol.  Don’t take care of their appearance or personal hygiene.  Have physical signs of injury or that they are hurting themselves.  Have panic attacks – rapid heartbeat, unable to breathe, feeling dizzy, and extremely scared or anxious all at once.  Unsettled sleeping patterns.

 

What do you think can help people be resilient in times of adversity, including strategies for coping? 

By being mindful of the four basic cornerstones to good health, you can help yourself and others in many ways.  To start with you would want to 1. get a good night’s sleep (7-9 hours a night).  2. Eat well and frequently, drink plenty of water.  3. Get plenty of exercise throughout the day.  4. Talk to someone about what’s going on.   Too often we see the signs of suffering get worse if any one of these cornerstones is compromised.

 

How can people support loved ones who suffer from mental health? 

I often have people ask me where to start when trying to get help either for themselves or for their loved ones.  The answer is never simple as everyone’s situation is different.  The good news is the increase of awareness we are now seeing as our culture shifts from this being a topic once kept in the dark to a topic bought into the light.  There seems to be more understanding and acceptance nowadays than there used to be.  Although we still have a long way to go.  Encourage an open and casual conversation with someone you think may be suffering and be prepared to listen without judgment.  Encourage belief and self-worth in someone that they can help themselves and get the monkey off their back.  Sometimes that’s all it takes and that is a good start.  Be kind and caring.

People left photos and lit candles in memory of those they have lost to mark World Suicide Awareness Day. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Shining a light on Suicide Awareness Day

Clutching photos of loved ones lost, friends and family gathered last night to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.

The clock tower and fountain in Seymour Square in Blenheim were lit up in yellow for a candlelight vigil to mark the day and those affected by suicide.

About 50 people joined together and marked a minute of silence before some took the opportunity to talk briefly about their loss and honour those they have lost through suicide.

World Suicide Prevention Day is held on this day each year to highlight the devastating effects of suicide, and the need to work together to support each other.

Organiser Bary Neal urged those struggling to seek help, saying loved ones left behind in the wake of such devastating loss deserved the chance to live their best lives.

“They wouldn’t want us to suffer forever,” he says.

National helplines

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

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

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Dr Nick Baker says there have been just seven cases of influenza. Photo: File.

Flu rates plummet amid Covid response

Flu rates have dropped dramatically as people take extra care to protect themselves from Covid-19.

Improved hygiene practices such as wearing masks and handwashing have helped keep flu at bay.

Increased immunisation levels mean no one has been hospitalised with flu since January across the Top of the South.

Nelson Marlborough Health chief medical officer Dr Nick Baker says there have been far fewer confirmed cases of influenza in 2020 than in 2019.

“People’s willingness to do simple things that protect them from catching and spreading Covid-19 has protected them from the flu, colds and other viruses such as gastro bugs,” he says.

In, 2019 there were 217 cases of hospital-related flu cases in the Top of the South compared to only 7 this year.

Nick says there have also been less instances of flu and flu-like illnesses in the community.

“GP-based influenza-like-illness surveillance and testing methods changed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 response.

“From the more limited amount of testing done, however, there have been no positive influenza results recorded by GPs.”

Immunisation started much earlier this year as part of the Government’s response to protect people from contracting both influenza and Covid-19.

“In the Nelson Marlborough region we also worked hard to increase immunisation uptake – especially for Māori and Pasifika, refugees, people aged 65 and older, people with existing health conditions and children with health conditions and their whānau members,” Nick says.

“We also had successful immunisation equity this year, Māori, Pasifika and refugees participated in higher-than-usual numbers.”

By July 3, more than 60,400 vaccines had been distributed for use in the Nelson Marlborough region.

This compares to 50,108 by the same time in 2019 and 46,699 by the same time in 2018.

Nurses, receptionists and administration staff picketed in Blenheim. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Health staff warn over pay gap consequences

Disgruntled medical staff are warning doctors’ surgeries could lose seasoned staff over an ongoing pay battle.

Primary Health Care Nurses (PHC) across Marlborough joined colleagues across the country in strike action on Thursday.

Staff warn the problem is set to get worse and recruitment will become a problem if pay disparity problems are not solved soon.

Gathering at Seymour Square to picket for equal pay in line with District Health Board nurses, staff say they are being paid 10.6 per cent less.

Civic Family Health practice nurse Allison Griggs says while she has the support of practice bosses, their hands are tied.

“We’re losing good nurses with lots of experience because of it.

“They’d rather work for the DHB where they get paid more.”

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says failed mediation meant the strike was inevitable.

NZNO issued a strike notice covering about 3200 Primary Health Care (PHC) nurses and receptionist/administration staff across more than 500 practices and accident/medical centres nationwide on 19 August.

NZNO union representative Daniel Marshall was at the strike.

He covers the whole of the Top of the South and says the pay gap is set to widen even further.

“There have been long standing issues over pay disparity and it’s about to be amplified as the government considers another pay rise for DHB nurses.

“It’s becoming harder to retain experienced staff and to attract new staff as the gap widens.”

Lister Court Medical reception lead Jo Ball says she had never walked off the job before.

She says she chose to strike as staff were not being fairly recognised for the work they do, especially during the pandemic.

“When we hear about front line services, reception staff are being forgotten about.

“People don’t see us as health care workers, as a nurse or a doctor, but we deal with the fallout from Covid every day.

“We want to feel valued as front line workers,” she says.

NZNO Industrial Advisor Chris Wilson says staff are not being shown how valuable their efforts are, especially during the pandemic.

“We have had enough of constantly hearing how valuable they are when absolutely no effort is being made to show that value in any tangible way.

“We need the Government to urgently do the right thing for the people who help save lives during the perilous time of a pandemic.

“That would be in the interests of everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand right now.”

Hularii Mckenzie and daughter Bailey are asking Marlborough businesses to be aware of accessibility issues during Covid-19 alert levels. Photo: File.

Covid causes access issues for wheelchair users

The family of a young wheelchair user are calling for businesses to help keep vulnerable people safe during the pandemic.

Blenheim parents Hularii and Amber McKenzie are calling for local companies to be more mindful when it comes to protecting disabled customers.

The pair, whose 10-year-old daughter Bailey uses a wheelchair, say hand sanitisers and QR codes for tracking apps are often too high to reach.

“Some can’t see onto countertops or reach high up, for those wheelchair users still needing to access shops and the community a QR code lower can really help.

“This also applies to sanitiser as well, having it lower helps, if it’s high they can’t reach it or it can squirt in their face,” Amber says.

Under Alert Level 2, all shops and business are required to post QR tracking codes to be used with mobile phones or keep a written record of visitors.

But the family of seven, who are currently self-isolating as Bailey has just had surgery, believe more care needs to be taken where posters and sign-in registers are placed.

Bailey, who has a range of conditions, including spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy, uses a wheelchair.

The youngster underwent double bilateral ankle surgery in Wellington earlier this month and is recovering well.

Hularii says he highlights the issue to businesses when he sees a problem.

“There was just a few I’d seen and mentioned it to the place, both here and in Wellington when we were there for surgery.

“All the places approached took it on board really well including making sure sanitiser was at a good height for wheelchair users.

“My understanding is on the back of the QR code sheet are recommendations, so they are at a height wheelchairs users can reach,” Hularii says.

The government recommendation is that the QR code sheets be placed no higher than 130cm.

Hularii says some people are displaying more than one QR code at different height levels to help.

But others people just aren’t aware of the problem,” he says.

“It doesn’t surprise me that some people aren’t aware of it.

“I always say if accessibility is not something you deal with day to day it’s easy to forget to account for because it’s not there, obvious in your face.

“Once people know they are usually very accommodating.

“Though it can be annoying for some, the disabled community can see issues and make others aware of the challenges we face.

“People don’t know what they don’t know.”

A Covid-19 sign at Wairau Hospital. Photo: Matt Brown.

Keyboard error sparks virus fears

Accidently hitting the wrong key on a computer sparked fears Covid-19 had returned to the region.

A Covid-19 test was accidently recorded as positive after a manual entry error.

Community Based Assessment Centre staff in Blenheim were alerted after the positive result was lodged at a laboratory in Nelson.

Staff discovered the mistake three hours later after lab staff checked the results.

The patient was not told of the positive result.

Medlab South Nelson Marlborough Clinical Microbiologist Dr Juliet Elvy says a manual entry error is to blame for the mix up.

“A manual entry error was made in recording the result for a Covid-19 test – due to a key stroke error.

“The incorrect test result was passed on to the Medical Officer of Health and that notification was withdrawn immediately after the error was detected – about three hours later.”

Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) run the labs at Nelson Hospital  and Wairau Hospitals.

All Covid-19 swabs taken by the SCL run Medlab laboratory in Marlborough are sent to Nelson after first being processed at Wairau Hospital.

Dr Elvy says the error was detected before the incorrect result was given to the person who had been tested.

Processes have been changed in the wake of the incident.

“We now have processes in place which mean we no longer rely on manual entry of test results, and all validation of manually entered tests is done by a second scientist,” she says.

The member of staff had been doing an eight-hour shift at the lab when the error occurred.

Laboratories in both Marlborough and Nelson have been swamped processing Covid-19 swabs.

Between 13 and 23 August alone, a total of 3210 tests were done in Marlborough, Nelson and Tasman, including 902 in Marlborough.

The figures come from all test providers; community-based assessment centres (CBACs), GP clinics, after-hours clinics (urgent care) and hospitals and at Port Nelson.

Dr Elvy says staff have processed 10,000 Covid-19 tests from Nelson and Marlborough.

“ …this testing has significantly ramped up since community transmission was detected in Auckland earlier this month.

“We are doing all we can to support our staff who are meeting the unprecedented demands of Covid testing,” she says.

GM Strategy, Primary & Community Cathy O’Malley says Nelson Marlborough Health has full confidence in Medlab South during this unprecedented time.

Zoe Osgood, 13, has been supported by the local community during her bone cancer battle in Christchurch. Photo: Supplied.

Community rallies after shock diagnosis

A teenager getting physio for what she thought was a sports injury is set for surgery after doctors discovered bone cancer.

Zoe Osgood, 13, from Blenheim was complaining about a sore knee when she got the shock diagnosis after an MRI scan.

Now her friends and family are rallying to raise money for the family so they can spend as much time together as possible as Zoe begins treatment.

Mum Michelle Osgood, who is manager at The Wine Station in Blenheim, says the family are very grateful for the support.

“We are so humbled by the response from the community.

“It has been overwhelming.

“We really feel like we have a village behind us. It’s a sensational feeling. The messages from people really give us strength, especially on a tough day.”

Just before lockdown, Zoe, a pupil at Marlborough Girls’ College, was limping and complaining of a sore knee.

Following physio, the bubbly youngster was given an MRI and diagnosed with Osteosarcoma.

“We assumed it was a sports injury and she had been receiving physio until 10 July when she got an MRI. That was Friday. On Monday our wonderful GP told us to come into the surgery and they had found a 2cm tumour called Osteosarcoma.

“It’s hard to believe, even now,” Michelle says.

Now in week two of treatment, Zoe has just finished her first round of chemotherapy. She faces between 9 and 12 months of further treatment including two cycles of chemotherapy, surgery, then more chemo.

She is in isolation now to protect her struggling immune system, Michelle says.

“She is very tired but coping incredibly. We take one day at a time.

“The five-week chemo cycles are something no child should have to go through however she is very positive in herself and in true “Zoe style” dealing with this in her quiet stoic way. She is one tough cookie.”

Dad Phil and brother Lucas are in Blenheim, hoping to get to Christchurch as much as they can. Zoe and Michelle are dividing their time between Ronald McDonald House and the hospital.

“It is particularly hard to not be here apparently – just waiting to hear how Zoe is…It’s no easier being here, you feel just as useless,” Michelle says.

The family also hope to make it back to Blenheim for a Shave Off fundraiser at Biddy Kate’s Café & Bar on 29 August.

Organised by family friend Donna Tupouto’a, there will be live music on the night and raffles. Entry is $20.

Blenheim’s Ritual Café is holding a Zoe Week between 10 and 16 August, donating $1 dollar for every cup of coffee they sell to hep the family concentrate on getting Zoe well again.

The support means a lot, says Michelle.

“This is a blip in our lives which we will overcome with the help of everyone there in the Boom.”

To donate through Givealittle visit givealittle.co.nz/cause/help-13-year-old-zoe-kick-cancers-arse.

Medlab South union staff have confirmed a 24-hour strike. Photo: Matt Brown.

Hospital lab staff to strike

Hospital lab staff are set to strike for 24 hours in protest over pay.

Union staff have voted to walk off the job next week from Wairau Hospital’s Southern Community Laboratories Ltd run lab.

Nelson Marlborough Health bosses say only urgent tests will be carried out.

General Manager Clinical Services Lexie O’Shea says staff are working in partnership with Medlab South to minimise disruption but warned there may be delays.

“All life-preserving services and emergency services will remain operational.

“Clinically urgent requests sent to the laboratories will be processed during the strike period.

“However, turnaround times may be delayed.”

The strike also affects Nelson Hospital which is run by the same provider.

The Medical Laboratory Workers employed by Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) Ltd are bargaining for a fair pay offer.

Staff have turned down the current rise offer, with union advocates APEX branding the move as unfair.

The offer “goes nowhere near” matching what staff employed by the District Health Board get, says APEX Senior Advocate David Munro

“The current offer from the employer goes nowhere near to matching the salaries of colleagues employed in the DHB run laboratories.

“Under their proposed pay offer a fully qualified scientist would be paid 4 per cent behind a colleague in a DHB lab doing the same work, and a qualified technician 6 per cent behind,” says David.

The strike is scheduled to take place on 17 August from 0800 Monday 17 August to 0800 Tuesday 18 August 2020.

Since lockdown level 4, all blood tests have been done via an appointment system.

Urgent blood tests can usually be done on the same day at either the Maxwell Road or Wairau Hospital collection centres.

Lexi says people should check with their GP before presenting to a collection centre.

“Some non-urgent procedures and tests may need to be rescheduled.

“Any affected patients will be contacted directly. We want to reassure people that unless they hear from us directly, they can assume that their appointment or procedure will be going ahead,” she says.

A Covid-19 sign at Wairau Hospital. Photo: Matt Brown.

Covid tests no longer a must for common cold symptoms

People with coughs and colds will no longer be automatically tested for Covid-19.

Ministry of Health staff have revealed new testing guidelines geared to focussing on higher risk patients.

The move comes in the wake of a spike in the number of people being tested in Marlborough as cold and flu season starts to strike.

Previous guidelines saw anybody with a runny nose, among other symptoms, automatically tested for the virus.

Other people with cold or flu symptoms can still be tested but it will not be a requirement.

The move is expected to put an end to the huge demand for tests in some areas over the past week as cold and flu season hit.

New guidelines mean efforts will now be focused on those who fall into high risk categories including, overseas travellers, direct contact or those working at an airport or isolation facility.

There are no new cases in Nelson Marlborough but community surveillance continues.

Tests are still be carried out at Urgent Care and on some emergency department patients at Wairau Hospital.

“Testing in the community will continue, and as part of our broader surveillance anyone with respiratory symptoms should contact Healthline or their general practice to get advice around getting a test,” a spokesperson says.

“The updated approach continues to rely on clinical judgement which has been an essential part of the testing approach since the outset and ensures that people who might be at higher risk are tested and managed appropriately.

“This is reflected in our high testing rates in the community, including 10,436 tests yesterday.”

Higher risk categories

* Had contact with an infected person

* Been overseas

* Had direct contact with someone who had been overseas

* Worked on an international aircraft of ship

* Worked at an airport or isolation facility

Anyone with respiratory symptoms should contact Healthline free on 0800 611 116 or their general practice to get advice around getting a test.

Health board move to prevent measles outbreak

Hundreds of young people at risk of a potentially deadly disease are being given a second chance to protect themselves.

Nelson Marlborough District Health is set to launch a $200,000 Measles Catch Up campaign in a bid to cut the number of people not immunised.

And health bosses hope the move will reduce the risk of a community outbreak.

In the wake of a national outbreak last year, the government announced a $23 million bid to vaccinate those aged between 15 and 29 years old across New Zealand.

General manager strategy, primary and community, Nelson Marlborough Health Cathy O’Malley says the focus is on those who may have missed out.

Cathy O’Malley wants to see people who have missed out on their MMR to be vaccinated. Photo: Supplied.
Cathy O’Malley wants to see people who have missed out on their MMR to be vaccinated. Photo: Supplied.

“Ministry is now focusing on the immunity gap in adolescents and young adults aged between 15-and 30-years old, a cohort born before the National Immunisation Register (NIR) was established.

“This gap primarily affects Māori and Pasifika peoples in this age group who we want to reach by removing barriers to accessing immunisation and raising awareness,” she says.

The cost of the campaign includes two part-time fixed-term positions, advertising, public health nursing (school outreach), community immunisation clinics and outreach to Maori and Pasifika people in that age group.

General Practitioners will start contacting patients in the middle of next month as the campaign gets underway.

The move will help reduce the risk of future measles outbreaks, Cathy says.

Ministry of Health figures for the year up to 31 March 2020 show the number of eligible children who have had all their age appropriate immunisations is at 79.9 per cent across Nelson and Marlborough.

In Nelson Marlborough there were 1485 eligible babies, of which 1186 were vaccinated.

“MMR is the best protection against these serious diseases – measles, mumps and rubella.

“We can’t yet immunise against COVID-19, but we can protect against other serious diseases,” Cathy says.

Staff will try to determine whether a person is unvaccinated and eligible for other vaccines and administering them at the same time, with the person’s consent.

But anyone who is eligible need not wait, she says.

“We encourage any young person in this age group to get their free immunisation at any time – they don’t have to wait for the campaign to start.

“You can get immunised for free by your family doctor (GP), at an after-hours medical centre or at a participating pharmacy.

“Nationally as well as locally we need to encourage this group to get vaccinated in order to reduce the risk of future measles outbreaks.”