This article contains discussion around suicide.
Home and Away star Rob Kipa-Williams has bravely used his platform to discuss his own mental health in order to help others feel they are not alone – and to raise awareness of what people go through in their darkest places.
The actor has joined up with Metro.co.uk for our Mental Health Awareness Week Takeover and here, he talks about the importance of speaking out, how men face pressure to conform when it comes to mental health and the development of the app Feel, which he has launched to help others.
How important is it for people to feel safe and encouraged to speak out?
I think it’s extremely important, I do think it’s even more important to share in a safe environment. To share with people who are accepting of your truth.
Do you think there’s an added pressure on men to conform to being ‘tough and strong’ that stops some speaking out?
I do think this is the case especially coming from New Zealand. We are kind of brought up to not show emotions. As I’ve evolved as a man in this regard one of the things I try to express as a person and through my acting is an authentic combination of being capable yet a willingness to be vulnerable, I think this in itself is a form of strength.
You have spoken out about your depression – how difficult was that? Was there relief afterwards?
I have and I think the relief is in the understanding of yourself. It’s a journey of being willing to shine the light in and on the dark parts of yourself that hurt or are hurting. Only then do we find a perspective that helps us see new ways of viewing how we could show up in the world.
In as much as you are comfortable doing so, can you outline your experiences with depression?
At my darkest point, I had thoughts of not being here anymore. When the walls feel like they are closing in and you believe that no one else would care if you were gone, it’s a pretty dark place. As I’ve grown I’ve come to understand that our thoughts create our world and if we feed the darker part of our thoughts we give them more strength.
My greatest challenge was learning to moderate my thoughts, moderate the reactive nature of those thoughts and ask myself if they are serving me. To practice patience and acceptance of yourself and of others and to choose different more empowering thoughts and feed and give strength and rise to better quality thoughts that serve me and empower me. It takes training to master this and I was lucky enough to have a guide and mentor to help me understand how to do this.
Since learning these lessons my life has truly changed and I am blessed with fruitful opportunities and an ability to make clearer decisions about what serves me best and that makes me happy.
At what point did you know you had to take back control? And what processes did you go through?
I think quite often we are stuck in behaviors, conditioning, or old trauma from the child within. I was at my lowest point and a friend offered to put me in contact with a man named Bert McCarthy a spiritual healer and mentor from a place called Horeke in Northland New Zealand. Bert introduced me to his own unique meditation practice and he simply asked me to practice it morning and night. I did that and that simple process slowly began to make me feel happier day by day and week by week. This practice made me feel “better” and it began to steer me towards better quality thoughts and a more positive outlook on life. This meditation practice bought calm and balance to my thoughts and impacted me profoundly.
How did the feelings impact your day-to-day life?
My feelings prior to meditation and the guidance of Bert more or less ruled my life and at that stage, not for the better. Over time I was able to gain a more empowering perspective on the way my thoughts and feelings had control of my mental state.
What kind of place would you say you are in now as a person?
I feel quite balanced and able to handle challenges from an objective point of view. I am connected to myself and can monitor my internal monologue, it takes practice and I’m not perfect at it but in the old days I was at the mercy of my thoughts. My thoughts and feelings just happened to me. Now the ability to catch negative thoughts or decide not to react to something does take a level of conscious thought. But these days I am not swept away with the emotion of a negative real life situation and I find I can find calm by choosing calm. I didn’t have that ability before.
You have used your experiences for good – launching the app Feel is such a great initiative. Can you tell me about it and how well it’s being received?
I soft-launched the Feel App last year when Covid first hit and there are so many more things I’d like to improve and add to its suite of tools.
The Feel App itself, it being used by Northland Sports in the upper North Island of New Zealand as a way for teammates, coaches, and family to be aware of how the sports teams are coping with life. The App itself notifies is users how their friends feel so they can provide support if needed. Its also being used in multiple countries around the world.
The next phase of development which is about to launch is the meditation practice I mentioned earlier. It’s exciting that people that are not being mentored by Bert will be able to access his methodology. What’s also exciting and unique about this meditation series is that it is a Polynesian meditation series. The music is being composed by Opetaia Foa’i the composer of the music for the Moana movie soundtrack. The guided meditation is being translated into 6 different Polynesian languages.
New Zealand has a shockingly high suicide rate and my country has been struggling with depression and suicide for many years. New Zealand has by far the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world.
One day I was meditating and afterwards I decided to watch the Moana Movie (againhaha) and the idea came to me, the music made me feel a way I couldn’t describe.
So I thought, maybe the languages, voices, sounds, and instruments of our Polynesian ancestors can help heal this tragic challenge we are faced with. I truly believe Polynesian culture and other cultures will find value in this meditation series which is also in English by the way.
What is your view on social media in general in relation to mental health?
I think it’s unhealthy. Validation is given for showing a perfect life or having the perfect body. As an actor and on a show that is watched by many, we are constantly subjected to the opinions of others, many fans have trouble separating who I am from my character.
I think without the tools that I have acquired through meditation I would have been at an increased risk for depression, anxiety and dark thoughts. People seem to have a filter on social media that would not exist if they were standing in front of the actual person they are referring to.
I and the other Parata boys have been racially attacked, abused, told me were terrible actors and recieved abuse about our culture, our life or our appearance. When our culture is concerned those hurtful remarks hurt and land harder than ones about us.
I think that social media has given rise to keyboard warriors, online bullies and people that may not actually think before typing.
Has developing and launching Feel been therapeutic for you?
Of course, it has, my brother and a few friends use the Feel App almost daily and I am alerted if they feel down and vice versa.
Quite a few people have messaged saying it has helped them or alerted them to a friend who isn’t in the best headspace – they wouldn’t have known about their friend’s situation otherwise. So that is therapeutic in itself.
I am working on it a lot more in my spare time between filming and I relish the opportunity to have a bit more time on my hands to finish off more of the features that I have in mind to make it even better.
What advice would you give anyone to support someone they know is going through depression?
Practice patience and unconditional love, give support not advice but most importantly be willing to listen and affirm positives. Spend quality time with them outdoors if possible, love is not an obligation but a feeling of authenticity, be conscious of your words you express and be sure what you say is inspiring, uplifting and empowering.
Not everyone has a Bert but the next best thing I think could help is the meditation practice that he introduced to me that changed my life. You will find this practice on the Feel Apps new update which we will roll out in June.
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Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover
This year, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Metro.co.uk has invited eight well-known mental health advocates to take over our site.
With a brilliant team that includes Alex Beresford, Russell Kane, Frankie Bridge, Anton Ferdinand, Sam Thompson, Scarlett Moffatt, Katie Piper and Joe Tracini, each of our guest editors have worked closely with us to share their own stories, and also educate, support and engage with our readers.
If you need help or advice for any mental health matter, here are just some of the organisations that were vital in helping us put together our MHAW Takeover:
- Mental Health Foundation
- Rethink Mental Illness
To contact any of the charities mentioned in the Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover click here
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