The Wakatipu has always been renowned for its resilience, from right back in the days of its early pioneers. The past year’s border closures may have left the area as one of the worst hit communities in the country, post-Covid, but out of it all has emerged something of a silver lining.

While the effects have been devastating for so many in an area so reliant on international tourism and the hospitality industry, Central Lakes Family Services general manager Tina Mongston says it’s prompted a huge response for wellbeing and mental health support services.

“So much has been done and we now have so many more resources available to all ages than we did pre-Covid,” says Tina.

“I know there’s been a lot of negative impact and news, but there are a lot of positives,” she says. “We have a lot of skills knowledge and proactive people to support and help those who are struggling,” she says. “The services that work in the social and wellbeing sector have collectively worked well together to identify needs and implement additional supports to help our community.

At times like this you’ve got to combine your resources and make every cent of funding go further,” she says. “We do that really well in the Wakatipu and I’m quite excited about some of the collaborations that have arisen across government, non-government and district council sectors,” says Tina. “I understand a lot of people are really struggling, but the wellbeing sector is putting in huge hours and working very hard to meet demand.”

Her service now has 20 staff, four more than pre-Covid.

Kids are getting the help they need in this post-Covid environment.

New NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation), the Southern Wellbeing Trust, formed by two local health industry volunteers last winter, now has six trained facilitators to deliver its innovative mental health education workshops locally, as well as four staff members, all paid.

Co-founded in September by local GP Dr Tim Rigg and health communications specialist Anna Dorsey, who recently worked for the Ministry of Health, the trust is all about taking preventative measures to protect people’s mental health.

“We felt compelled to set up the trust after seeing how the impact of Covid-19 was adding such pressure to local health and social services with reports of wait lists for mental health counsellors,” says Anna.

“We could see first-hand how big a challenge this was going to be for our communities,” she says. “Not just the risk to our physical health but the far-reaching and ongoing threat to people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

The trust is all about ‘upskilling’ the community to support each other. The most at risk groups in the community have been identified and a facilitator is trained up to take helpful skills and tools into those groups.

The Brazilian and Filipino communities are first off the ranks, along with new parents in the community. “We’re now looking at taking this model into local small businesses as well,” says Anna.

It’s the first time the idea has been used outside the corporate and rural sectors. The three-hour workshops are held at grassroots level, facilitated by a member of each group who speaks their own language. “It’s all about removing barriers and giving them tools to help each other stay stronger,” she says. “Our focus is on prevention and resilience, more of a ‘self-agency’, enabling us all to navigate life’s challenges.”

In addition to this vital service, Tina says fully-funded social workers are now operating in all seven primary schools in the Wakatipu, offering free counselling to children. “This is for any disruption towards a child’s learning, which could be a result of problems at home, which many children have faced post-Covid, or a change in living situation, or peer pressure, friendship difficulties, or a physical illness or disability. “Queenstown has traditionally been overlooked for extra in-school social worker funding because of its Decile 10 ranking – this usually goes to Decile 3 and below,” says Tina. “So it’s been a bit of a silver lining that we’ve been able to get these up and running, not just for post-Covid problems, but any issues children have.”

A mental health wellbeing navigator, Lisa Gear, has also been appointed to connect people with the various resources and to promote wellbeing education and awareness in the community.

Surrounding her is the Central Lakes Wellbeing Recovery Group, founded last year as a direct response to the Coivd-19 crisis. This has membership from the Southern District Health Board, Wellsouth, Public Health South, Central Lakes Family Services, Queenstown Lakes District Council and the newly-formed Mana Tahuna Charitable Trust. “We also have Health Improvement Practitioners and health coaches working out of local GP clinics,” says Tina.

“People have really been struggling locally in the post-Covid climate,” she says. “The past year has taken a huge toll on everyone’s health and wellbeing. Those working in the social sector have been working extremely hard to try and meet the local demands, so it’s just wonderful to have all this support in place.”