Sharing experiences to help others

WORKSHOPS: Depression Support Network have a series of gatherings planned in Ashburton District with speakers talking about depression. PHOTO GETTY IMAGES
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Two men will be sharing their lived experience of depression at free upcoming workshops in Mid Canterbury.

Depression Support Network peer support worker Byron Cope from Christchurch is facilitating three workshops – at Ashburton, Methven and Rakaia.

He will share his journey alongside Mid Canterbury farmer and rural firefighter Dennis Bird.

The workshops will explore the nine clinical signs of depression, helping people recognise the illness in themselves and those around them.

Attendees will also get practical tools and tips for how to manage depression, how to support those they are concerned about, how to build on what they already know and how to share their experiences if they wish.

Bird said his journey began in 2011, exacerbated by the loss of several friends who had depression and took their own lives.

‘‘I wish I had known they had depression, if I could have talked to them about it the outcome might have been different. During my time of depression I was never suicidal,’’ Bird said.

Bird has now recovered.

‘‘I got through my depression because of the help from my doctor who put me in touch with a counsellor. Through the counsellor I joined the Ashburton depression support group. I still attend the support group and can now help others with their journey.

‘‘I was also very fortunate to have good people around me to talk to and support especially my parents who have now passed but also members of the Pendarves Volunteer Fire Brigade and lots of others,’’ Bird said.

He had been inspired by former All Black Sir John Kirwan, mental health advocate Mike King and high profile farmer Doug Avery.

‘‘I want to get it out there that mental health, depression are normal, that there are those of us like me who are happy to talk and help others. There are agencies to help, people just need to reach out and ask for help,’’ Bird said.

WORKSHOPS: Depression Support Network peer support worker Byron Cope (left), of Christchurch, and Ashburton’s Dennis Bird will talk honestly about depression.

Cope said the workshops were interactive. They would provide a safe space for people to ask questions but also share their experience.

‘‘We want to normalise depression and help people to feel comfortable about talking about it,’’ Cope said.

One in four New Zealanders would suffer the illness at some stage of their life.

‘‘There are various stages of depression ranging from mild through moderate to severe.

‘‘Our organisation is there to help those living with depression and those supporting these people. We are a non-medical service,’’ Cope said.

‘‘To be diagnosed with depression requires a doctor to assess the person. But there can be barriers to people getting to a doctor or finding a GP so we can support them to get there,’’ Cope said.

‘‘We are there to empower people to have control over their lives.’’

Cope came from a big family in Dunedin and started doing drugs and drinking at about 12-years-old. Following a major car crash in 1992, he attempted suicide 29 times.

It was following going to court to get access to see his first daughter that he began to deal with his addictions and depression.

He stopped drinking and doing drugs. For two years he didn’t really leave his house.

‘‘My depression was a gift, it was something I had to learn to live with, to live with that part of myself,’’ Cope said.

‘‘Because I wanted to deal with it and had a desire to do the work, I can now live with it,’’ he said.

‘‘The hardest thing is to ask for help, but it’s worth asking and getting the support.’’

Today the father of two daughters is a grandfather, and feels he is in a space where he can help others.

Depression Support Network provide support services for people in Canterbury, including Mid Canterbury whose lives are adversely affected by depression, including group support, one-to-one support, resource information and education courses.

– The Keep Learning Mid Canterbury, Wellbeing Opuke and Depression Support Network free workshops on depression are on March 26 at the Methven Parish Centre, All Saints Anglican Church, 1 Chapman St, Methven, from 7pm to 9pm, March 27 at Te Kete Tuhinga / Ashburton Public Library, 2 Baring Square East, from 5.30 to 7.30pm and April 10 at Rakaia School, 33 Dunford St, Rakaia from 7pm to 9pm. To register for the workshops go online to