Walking For Jonathan

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I expect we are all inspired and impressed with the feat Robert Hunter accomplished last week. Walking all the way from Hicks Bay to Gisborne demonstrated how passionate he is to ensure people who use marijuana know they risk mental illness as a result.

Robert says all along the way he heard numerous stories of heartbreak from family and friends of those affected by their use of marijuana. Robert’s son Jonathan was introduced to marijuana by friends and was one of many who develop psychotic symptoms when they use the drug a lot. It is marijuana use that his parents hold mostly responsible for Jonathan’s tragic suicide and it is the link between marijuana and psychosis they are campaigning about.

While Tairawhiti District Health Board and other local organisations no doubt receive thousands of taxpayer dollars for public health promotion every year, this simple act of love, Robert walking the length of our district in memory of his son, has generated more discussion on the issues in one week than anything else in recent memory.

We have to wonder where the community leaders are who will also speak out about the culture of acceptance. Is it the Tairawhiti District Health Board members and health professionals who are paid to promote wellbeing that are leading real change? Is it youth workers, counsellors, educators, police officers, probation officers and social workers that see the results of drugs in families and the effects on children? Is it local iwi leaders, sports stars, business people or other respected locals who have taken up the cause and helped communities rethink our addictions to marijuana, alcohol and other drugs?

Significant parts of our district accept drug abuse as part of the local culture, recognising its contribution to the local economy and passing on the habits from one generation to another. Few members of these communities are brave enough to challenge the dominant drug culture as it can literally result in attacks, ridicule or exclusion from the people and place they belong to.

For other parts of our community marijuana is an unfamiliar addiction, something that has only been picked up by a younger generation. But for this reason it can affect a family even more so and the inexplicable pain of having a child or grandchild take their own life is something no one should have to experience.

Research on the links between marijuana use and mental illness will benefit from this campaign, what we also need are decent support and treatment services appropriate for the range of individuals and families affected in our community. Next week there is a free two day training workshop for people interested in using a simple tool called ‘Smashed and Stoned’ that helps young people reflect on how and why they use drugs including marijuana, cigarettes and alcohol. I have found it very effective with teenagers and encourage others willing to be part of the solution to use it. Contact Bev Thomas at Turanga Health or Tim Marshall at Family Works to find out more.

It really was great to see so much support for his simple message as Robert passed through each settlement and a good turn out for the last leg into town. As Robert and Coralie have said, if the walk is able to spare just one family the pain of losing a family member, then the effort will have been worthwhile. Let’s hope it is the catalyst for sustained positive change in our community that will help many families.

Read more at: www.facebook.com/WalkingForJonathan

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