Changing Minds in the Deaf Community

Thanks to funding in Round Seven from the NZ Sign Language Board, Changing Minds was able to run two projects to change the conversation about mental health within the Deaf community.

Hi, we are Changing Minds, a Lived-Experience led organisation. That means that everyone who works here has been on a journey with mental distress and/or addiction, even our Board members. 

At Changing Minds, we believe our Lived Experience is our strength – Lived Experience means that our personal experience with mental distress or addiction has made us experts. Maybe you are a Lived Experience expert too!  

Thanks to funding from the NZ Sign Language Board, Changing Minds was able to run two projects to change the conversation about mental health within the Deaf community.

It was really important we made sure what we created was designed by and for the Deaf community. 

So we worked with a lot of people from the Deaf community to help us. 

The first project is called Rākau Roroa – our award-winning training programme, creating mental health champions within the Deaf and Mental Health and Addiction communities. 

It’s a free training that supports people with lived experience in mental distress or addiction to become mental health leaders within the Deaf community. 

We trained nine people over two days. When you graduate, you become what we call a Tall Tree – part of a big community of all our other graduates. Some of our Tall Trees were really helpful in the next stage of our project – a Deaf Mental Health Hands Story (campaign). 

After Rākau Roroa  finished, we were busy working on co-designing and producing a mental health promotion hands story designed by and for the Deaf community in NZ alongside our creative agency, Curative.

Co design means we created a campaign designed by and for the Deaf community. We knew is was not our job to tell Deaf people what we think they need. We wanted to hear from your community, so we could make something that people really wanted and needed.  

 To do this, we held four co design workshops in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch – they were all held in person, in safe spaces where Deaf communities already meet up together.

 Over 55 people told us what they thought we should do, and a lot of our Deaf Tall Trees were there too. 

 After that, we went away and came up with an idea. Then we tested it with some of our Deaf Tall Trees – asking ‘what do you think’, ‘does this feel right to you?’. We took their advice and had a final idea – create a series of videos, from real people from the Deaf community in Aotearoa, signing how they help and support their friends and family’s mental health. 

 Some shared some tips for how to do this. We were lucky so many people in the Deaf community supported this – the Deaf Societies we worked with and Deaf Wellbeing NZ shared our videos, and lots of people in the Deaf community shared and posted the videos so even more people could see them. Some even made their own videos and shared them with their friends and family, saying what they would like to happen if they were feeling distressed. 

 The point of the videos was to shift the conversation about Deaf mental health. From something we keep to ourselves, hiding from the world, to being leaders in our own community. We are excited people are sharing their knowledge on how you can support people who might need a friend by asking ‘How are you today?’. And being ready for the answer in a way that makes the other person feel safe, and loved. 

 If someone is feeling distressed, we want them to feel supported – not judged. Research tells us 1 in 2 Deaf people experience mental distress at some stage in their lives. It is ok to not feel ok, and we want it to be ok for people to talk about how they are feeling in ways that are safe and supportive of them.

 Our hope is that these videos encourage a different conversation about mental health for Deaf. So far, we have had over 117,000 views of our videos, and more people are watching and sharing them every day.  

 Please check out the videos, share them, make your own videos – and try to be the best friend you can be when someone needs to talk about what they are going through.  You can do this by starting with one simple question: How are you today?

The links to our Mental Health Hands Story can be found online:

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