Masks are a big part of the fight against COVID-19 in New Zealand, but for a large part of the Kiwi community, they are also an added complication when it comes to being understood.
For Jared Flitcroft, a member of the Deaf community whose primary language is New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), masks prevent him from being able to lip-read and see facial expressions.
“We need clear [see-through] masks, that would help a whole lot – or if that’s not possible, we could keep our distance, take the mask off and try and communicate. If the distance is not possible, then writing on a piece of paper would be the best thing to do.”
Being understood and being able to communicate is such a fundamental part of the human experience, but it’s one of the hurdles Deaf and hard of hearing people can face. It’s one of the reasons Jared, a film director, has spent his career working in film and television.
“I’ve been watching films for as long as I can remember. In the old days, films were not captioned, but it still gave me a sense of escapism into an imaginative world, which fascinated me.”
An early love of acting and drama turned into a passion for the behind-the-scenes aspects, eventually leading Jared into directing. “It was a fantastic opportunity for me to be creative and I wanted to make movies where both Deaf and hearing [people] are in parallel to each other.”
His short film Tama, which he made with a hearing co-director, went to numerous film festivals around the world; this has led to ongoing videography work.
Jared says the purpose behind his creative work is to “empower deaf people to stand up for themselves and allow them to chase their own dreams”.
Masks aside, the past few months of COVID-19 and the physical isolation that came with it have not added too many more difficulties for Jared. Zooms are just as useful for signing words as they are for verbally speaking.
But Jared says he did experience mental distress brought on by a relationship break-up at that time.
“It was really tough – I had a huge breakdown and had to go to emergency accommodation. My mental health derailed, my job was at risk because we weren’t sure what was going to happen and I moved into a motel, where I still am.”
It took a good, few months to start to feel back on track, Jared says. “I didn’t have a bubble, I was pretty lonely.”
To look after his wellbeing, he stuck to his routine as much as possible – he skated outside when he could and maintained therapy sessions over Zoom.
He’s still living in the hotel but uses it mainly for sleep, keeping to a morning routine of getting up and out of the house. He has put a stronger focus on work, coming up with new ideas and applying for grants. Like it is with many breakups and massive life interruptions, these daily routines were critical for getting Jared through to the other side.
“I’ve learned to be more grateful in my life really – my business is slowly taking off, my personal life is getting better. Yes, I have setbacks, but things are improving. My relationship with friends and whānau are improving as well, so it does give me a rethink on how I can be a better person.”
When it comes to the theme of this Mental Health Awareness Week – Reimagine Wellbeing Together – He Tirohanga Anamata – Jared thinks it’s all about meeting the moment.
“We have to learn to adjust to how the world is right now. COVID-19 has tested us, either through our relationships, or through our work-life balance. Reimagining our wellbeing will enable us to still live fulfilling lives in a COVID-19 world.”
Join many other people in Aotearoa to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week here.