Thriving, not just surviving
Nineteen-year-old POD participant and Auckland University statistics student, Caitlin
Smart, remembers her parents telling her she was a sensitive child, but her first
experience of mental distress came five years ago.
”My cousin died and a whole lot of things built up when I was 14. That was when the
anxiety first reared its head,” she says.
”Then when I was 16 I experienced depression, as well as anxiety. My parents didn’t know
anything was wrong until I was sent home from school for inappropriate behaviour.”
Caitlin (pictured left with Kirsten on
the right) has now developed a traffic light system with her family and friends. “If
I’m green, I go out, socialise with people and exercise. If I’m amber, my focus is more
on clearing my schedule and getting on top of medication. If I’m red, I have to stop, go
back to counselling and alert my parents and partner.”
The past eight months have been a revelation for Caitlin as she’s stepped outside her own
experience and begun to advocate for good mental health. It started when she applied
Caitlin swears she is not a hugely creative person, but she dabbles in fan fiction and
poetry and it was this talent she drew on in the first stage of her POD project.
“I decided to develop a spoken word poetry project about the superpowers that people gain
from their experiences with mental distress.”
She entered her work in the Auckland University poetry slam and got a great response from
the audience. “They liked the theme of super-hero; the ‘I’m a wonder woman and look at
the cool things that I can do’. I came third.”
Creating a wellbeing zone
While taking part in POD, Caitlin became involved in the co-design of Festival for the
Future, a youth leadership conference hosted by Inspiring
She took on a leadership role and created a wellbeing zone where festival-goers could
take a break from the conference, as well as learn more about mental wellbeing,
resilience, and self-care. Part of the wellbeing zone was a beach retreat, complete with
sandpit, deck chairs, sun umbrellas and ocean sounds playing in the background.
Caitlin also arranged an area where people could explore the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’.
Activities included a card making station for people to ‘Give’ thanks to someone in
their life, and a superhero wall inviting people to ‘Take Notice’ of the ‘superpowers’
they have developed to help face challenges, and share these with others.
“I wanted to create something and see it through to the end. It was a challenge managing
my anxiety, my time and limitations, and other people’s expectations, but I did and it
was great. I was super proud of it – it took over a whole floor of Auckland’s Aotea
Centre,” Caitlin says.
Everyone brings something different
Caitlin says her work through POD proves that confronting any mental health issue is
nothing to be afraid or ashamed of and that you can live with a mental illness and be
“I think it is important that everyone can participate and I personally believe that
those who are the most passionate about something were first deeply affected by it,” she
“We don’t live in a perfect world, but everyone has the right and ability to change the
world and make it a better place. We won’t get very far if we exclude people because
their experiences are not the same as ours. Everyone brings something different.”