Guardian angel


Mental health award winner says stress of resort is ‘invisible’

Caring Verona Cournane has spent the past nine years tackling one of Queenstown’s great unspoken taboos.

The manager of the Frankton-based Wakatipu Community Mental Health Team was recognised by her peers last Saturday with a special appreciation award for her longstanding service.

The accolade was sprung on her when national Mental Health Awareness Week was launched locally at Remarkables Park.

But Cournane isn’t comfortable being in the spotlight. She’d rather be out and about doing what she knows best – helping others.

And she says despite Queenstown’s worldwide reputation as a fun-packed resort, life can be no party for some who live and work here.

“Queenstown has the same general mental health issues as most other places,” Cournane explains.

“But what’s different is that some people can’t understand how they can live in such a beautiful area that they love, yet are experiencing all sorts of problems coping with life.

“This is a very, very hard­working town with a lot of younger people in the prime of their lives who want all the normal things like a house, relationship, family and a good job.

“But because of the amount of work they take on and the high cost of living in the area, this can eventually lead to depression and other mental health problems.

“Add in a few money worries or a business that isn’t going so well and suddenly you have a stressful situation in which people get overwhelmed and need help.

“But this is almost invisible because on the outside, everyone in Queenstown appears to look so prosperous.”

Getting those people to actually come forward for assistance is still a big hurdle, Cournane says.

“Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma surrounding mental health issues in New Zealand and Queenstown isn’t any different.

“Attitudes have certainly been improving in recent years but many people who are suffering, especially men, still think they should simply pull themselves together and don’t speak to anyone about how they are feeling because that’s the way it has always been.”

As well as leading Southland District Health Board’s 13-strong local mental health team,

grandmother-of-three Cournane – a nurse for more than 30 years – also chairs the Happiness House Trust charity.

In addition, she provides help and support to a variety of other community workers and agencies such as PACT, X-it Youth Centre, Strengthening Families and Supporting Families.

“Queenstown is a wonderful place with so many positive people and positive things going on but beneath the surface, for some, it can be a very lonely place to live,” she says.

“So many people come and go all the time that it isn’t easy to make lasting friendships. Many don’t even want to start a relationship because they think it probably won’t last six months anyway.

“But there’s a lot of very good help available in the Wakatipu from not just the mental health team but from GPs, non-government agencies, the Salvation Army and the various churches here,” Cournane adds.

Velda Jones, a clinical nurse specialist who works alongside Cournane, is quick to sing her colleague’s praises.

“The work Verona has been doing in and for this community for so many years is invaluable,” Jones says.

“Her expertise and knowledge is an inspiration to us all and her dedication is second to none.”