Transforming life through education in Te Tai Tokerau

16 September 2020

Transforming life through education in Te Tai Tokerau

A NorthTec student has spoken about her mental health experiences, and how a NorthTec programme has helped her to grow and transform her life.

Lauren Taylor, 25, began her study journey at AUT in 2015. She says, “It would be an understatement to say that it was a shock to the system. My rent was more than my student loan payments, I was living in an unfamiliar city, working part time, and struggling to pass my course.

“As the year progressed, I became more and more worn out. I took out loans and credit cards to cover my rent and started to dive into a struggle with depression. I felt alone and in over my head.”

In March 2016, Lauren moved back to Whāngarei and worked at Pak'nSave to try and save more money to finish her degree. She then decided to study at NorthTec and completed the NZ Certificate in Tourism and the NZ Certificate in Travel.

“Just after I completed my certificate, I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. My mental health declined until I would no longer leave my room. I spent every day at home as I was ashamed of myself. I felt like a failure. For a year I struggled with mental health and drug addictions. I put on weight and would struggle to make it to my only commitment which was a weekly meeting with my therapist.”

As Lauren started to improve, she wanted to get back into studying, but was “petrified of failing.”

She began the NZ Certificate in Health and Wellbeing in 2019 to help understand more about what she had struggled with herself and try to help get herself back into the workforce.

“NorthTec was a safe place for me. The programme made for some self-discoveries which at the time could be very sobering and confronting. It helped me to look at myself in an analytical way that resulted in some profound growth. It encourages students to have a strong base in all aspects of life before we go out to help others. I became much more self-aware and have learned my limits, which will be so important when working in high-stress situations.

“Having classmates from a variety of backgrounds, ages and cultures was very different to my time spent at university. The variety helped so much when it came to understanding working with others and relating the theory to real life.

“I was often pushed beyond what I thought was my limits emotionally and mentally but the diversity meant that I always had support, advice and aroha enveloped around me. I never felt like I was facing those challenges alone.

“NorthTec is not a second-class option, I always felt like going to a polytechnic meant that I wasn't as successful as the rest of my year group who went off to university. Take it from someone who has been to both, NorthTec was a far better option for me academically and emotionally.”

Annie Joass, NZ Certificate in Health and Wellbeing tutor, said the programme has a very strong focus on training skilled employees for the mental health and addictions workforce, however the personal journey students go on during the course is transformational.

“Students learn how to relate to others through first learning to relate to themselves. The growth I see in students is never just academic. I believe education is key to the development of a skilled workforce in Te Tai Tokerau. I have seen students enter NorthTec having never studied before and leave with a qualification which allows them to access opportunities for more meaningful and well-paid employment. This is life changing.”

Lauren says she feels confident in her new-found abilities to know and understand herself that helps her to constantly strengthen and grow.

“18 Months ago I was on the disability benefit and struggled to find a reason to get out of bed every day. Today I am working full-time and using my new knowledge to awhi others who are struggling with similar challenges that I faced. I am contributing positively to my community, my own health and wellbeing and feeling more prepared to meet new challenges.”