Mental Health Awareness Week FAQs

23 Sep, 2019

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week – affectionately known (by us, at least) as MHAW. It’s our favourite week of the year because we get to talk with you about how you find your way to wellbeing.

This year, twice as many individuals, schools, workplaces and organisations are taking part in MHAW and we couldn’t be happier. So far we estimate that is 450,000 people and counting.

If it’s your first MHAW, you might have a few questions. We’ve answered the most common ones below. Any other questions? Email

What is MHAW?

MHAW is our annual campaign that works to help Kiwis understand what boosts their wellbeing and improves mental health. We’ve been running it since 1993 (when not many people wanted to talk publicly about mental health) and we’re so proud of how much its grown.

We pick a new theme every year because there isn’t just one way to wellbeing and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone in Aotearoa. Hopefully, every new MHAW adds a new skill, tool or strategy to your wellbeing kete to help you every day and to draw on when times are tough.

What is wellbeing?

In short, wellbeing is feeling good, functioning well and feeling connected.

The Mental Health Foundation is committed to an Aotearoa where everyone can enjoy good mental health and wellbeing.

What does this mean? It means an Aotearoa where we feel good and do well, most of the time.

It doesn’t mean we don’t experience tough times – it doesn’t even mean that we don’t experience mental illness or distress!

It means we have the tools, support and environments we need to be who are we and to build and sustain lives worth living.

What models of wellbeing do you use?

We use two key models of wellbeing to help us understand what we need to do as individuals, whānau, communities and as a society to ensure we can all enjoy good mental wellbeing. These models are:

  • Te Whare Tapa Whā – a model of mental health developed by Sir Mason Durie in 1984. The model describes health and wellbeing as a wharenui/meeting house with four walls. These walls represent taha wairua/spiritual wellbeing, taha hinengaro/mental and emotional wellbeing, taha tinana/physical wellbeing and taha whānau/family and social wellbeing. Our connection with the whenua/land forms the foundation. When all these things are in balance, we thrive. When one or more of these is out of balance our wellbeing is impacted.
  • The Five Ways to Wellbeing – five simple, yet proven actions you can use every day to help you find balance, build resilience and boost wellbeing. These were developed by the New Economics Foundation in the UK and have been adapted by the MHF for a New Zealand audience. The Five Ways are Give, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Connect.

Why is Explore your way to wellbeing the theme for this year?

We chose this theme because for the last eight years we’ve had one specific way to wellbeing to promote – from Give, Connect, Take Notice, Be Active and Keep Learning to different ways to connect with nature. Each year we’ve had people who loved the theme and some who have felt it doesn’t connect with them.

This year we wanted to acknowledge that we each have our own wellbeing journey. Something that works for most people may not work for you, and that’s okay! Exploring wellbeing (using Te Whare Tapa Whā as our guide) can help us decide what makes us feel good and what we’d rather not do.

What about people who are mentally unwell?

MHAW is for everybody – we really mean that. We would never pick a theme that only works for people who do not or have not experienced mental illness. Your ways to wellbeing when you’re not feeling great might be different to what works when you’re well. That’s okay! It’s important for you to do what you can and what feels best to you. Maybe it’s just texting someone back, taking a moment to notice the sun on your face or listening to a song that connects with you.

We know a focus on wellbeing can feel small – it can feel like the MHF isn’t seeing the huge pain people are feeling or that we’re not acknowledging the big challenges Aotearoa is facing in making sure people have the right support for their mental health.

It can feel like advice to connect with others or go for a walk belittles what you’re going through.

We hear you. And of course better services are needed. We also know from the lived experience of people who have significant mental health challenges and from research that actions to improve wellbeing do support healing and recovery – even when you feel really bad.

We are working every day to advocate for improved mental health services, the right support from our whānau, friends and community, less prejudice and discrimination. New Zealand needs to tackle a whole bunch of big problems like racism, poverty and violence, too. These are barriers to us feeling and functioning well – and we will never stop working on removing those barriers.

But we can’t wait for these things to happen before we focus on wellbeing. We can’t just focus on removing risk factors and barriers – if we really want to make sure New Zealanders have lives worth living we need to make sure we all have opportunities to connect, grow, learn and build good mental health and wellbeing. That’s what MHAW is all about.

Is MHAW a fundraiser?

We don’t run MHAW as a fundraiser. We are incredibly fortunate to have the support of some amazing individuals and businesses who do want to celebrate MHAW by raising money for us and we are extremely grateful for them. There are small fundraising events around the country like yoga classes, quiz nights and fun runs that have been set up by amazing supporters. We welcome the support but you absolutely do not need to fundraise for MHAW to take part.

Why does MHAW focus only on wellbeing?

This is a fair question! In New Zealand we do talk a lot about mental illness and mental distress because they’re issues so many of us face every day. But we don’t have a huge amount of awareness about what good mental health is, what it looks like and how we can each work to build it. That’s why we run MHAW as a wellbeing campaign – wellbeing is important! Growing good mental health is so important that promoting wellbeing is one of the key strands of the new national suicide prevention strategy.

But know that we’re also advocating for better systems, services and communities for people who experience mental illness as well. We’re doing that mahi every day.

How can I take part in MHAW?

Visit for events, activities, competitions and much more!

Need support now?

Free call or text 1737 to talk with a trained counsellor. It’s free and confidential and available 24/7.

If we can connect you with supports and services in your area please email us: (don’t forget to let us know where in New Zealand you are!).