“The advice I would give my younger self is – keep your options open, keep going and
don’t give up. Accept everything that happens to you and then leave those things in the
Helena Sonar is a peer support worker in Auckland. Her job involves helping people find
their own path to recovery from mental distress, and now she’s sharing her personal
story in the hope it will help others.
“My uncle and mum both experienced mental illness, but it was never talked about in my
family. I sort of learned as I went and supported my mum when she needed it,” says
Helena. “I didn’t think it was fair how mental illness affected my mum’s health and I
felt really overwhelmed about it.”
Reaching out for support can be hard
While studying at university and supporting her mum, Helena suffered a bad head injury
and began to experience her own mental distress. At the time, she didn’t realise what
“Luckily, I had ongoing support from ACC and a university disability allowance that
helped me with my study and extra exam time.”
Eventually, Helena got professional help, but it was a very hard road.
“I was ashamed and not in the right mindset for a while, so it kept me from reaching
out,” she explains.
Self-awareness helps recovery
For Helena, a huge part of her recovery was learning about herself, her experience and
“I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and psychosis, and for a while I kept asking ‘why
me?’ - until I learned more and spoke with people who had experienced similar things.”
Helena’s mum doesn’t have the same outlook. “She doesn’t want to talk about her
experience or learn more about it – she is quite closed up. For her, it was something
that happened in the past and she just wants to forget about it.”
During her recovery, Helena felt well enough to go back to university and finish her
degree – a Bachelor of Business in Information Technology. “It was difficult to return
to University. I felt out of my comfort zone, but it meant a lot to finish my degree
because I’d worked so hard for it.”
Embracing hope leads to wellbeing
Today Helena is happy with where she is in her life. She has her husband, her family, a
job that she loves, and her first child, a little boy born in January 2017.
Every day she continues to grow and learn about herself and her mental wellbeing. “I’m
still on the road to recovery. I believe I’ve come a long way through change, support
She’s embraced ‘hope’ as a key concept, after her experience. “Hope to me means having a
positive mindset to mental health and life – and looking at my wellbeing as a whole, not
just a part.
“Remembering to be assertive in my day-to-day schedule is helpful – and something I have
also embraced. Most of the time I want to speak up - I don’t want to hold back - so I
would rather ask for assistance than bottle things up.
“Now I have hope, I am able to share that hope with others.”
Helena is a 2010 NZ Mental Health Media Grant Fellow. Read