Big-hearted couple dedicated to supporting men's mental health and wellbeing

By Te Kakenga Bishara

Sarah and Mataio Brown are making changes to peoples lives. Photo / Supplied

Self-empowerment is the main goal for two Aotearoa mental health advocates.

New Zealand Order of Merit recipients for services to mental health and family violence prevention, Mataio Brown (Samoan heritage) and his wife Sarah (Ngapuhi/Te Rarawa) are working with indigenous men to support mental health and wellbeing.

They created the global movement She Is Not Your Rehab, which has more than 100,000 followers across social media platforms and was recognised by the UK government, winning the Points of Light Award for making a change to the community.

Much of the work for that is done at Mataio's barbershop, which is an outlet for their advocacy.

The Christchurch-based couple have also authored a book and raised enough funds to donate 9000 copies to prison libraries. They are an instrumental part of the Ministry of Social Development-backed It's Not Ok Campaign.

With a country-wide shortage of mental health workers, the Browns are determined to help indigenous men become their own experts, saving them time and money.

The couple are developing a mobile app to encourage users to do various self-wellbeing activities for 30 minutes a day.

With therapy unaffordable for many Māori and Pasifika men, the app can be accessed easily.

Sarah says a reoccurring theme for many people who approach her is they don't have good or positive parenting figures in their lives.

Mataio said when Covid first hit and everything shut down, many of his regular clients reached out to him via social media.

A haircut was one way of breaking the ice and led to sitting down and talking to someone who listened to and supported them with their issues.

"We found a lot of the men that spoke with me were vulnerable," Mataio says.

"That's a part of life that helps us own our stories. Mamae and shame were lessened when vulnerability was required."

Mataio says Covid has meant the stigma around discussing mental health has been lessened to a certain extent.

The pair are pleased with the commitment to improve mental health but admit there is still a lot more that needs doing.

"Covid has allowed time for the hard conversations around mental health to be normalised," says Mataio.

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air