After suffering depression and attempting suicide, Johnny Angel was hospitalised and diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Around 2002 he suffered a relapse which led him into the care of Tiaho Mai, Middlemore Hospital’s mental health rehabilitation unit.
“I thought I was fine. With bipolar, the flip side of depression can be mania – and my mood was up, and I was all pumped up - so I thought I was more than ok,” says Johnny.
It was his sister, Teri who noticed her brother was still unwell and started to seek help for him.
“It was a hard decision to make but it was the best decision and I am really proud of my brother,” she says.
Being raised in the traditional Samoan way, and in the church, meant that mental health wasn’t something that was understood, explains Johnny, so he didn’t know much about it.
“People had told me it was because of my sins but I know mental illness is real, I lived it.”
Johnny says during his time at Tiaho Mai, he changed his attitude and realised he needed help to get better. He also began to take his medication which until then he had resisted.
“If it wasn’t for my family and mental health services like Tiaho Mai, I probably wouldn’t be here – I felt safe there, the staff really look after you, they check on you, give you your medication and help you.
“I will always appreciate and value the work they do. I know now - you can’t do it alone,” he says.
Teri says that communication with Tiaho Mai was excellent and the aiga (family) was always kept up to date and involved in decisions.
After leaving the care of Tiaho Mai, Johnny and Teri featured in a ‘Like Minds, Like Mine’ campaign, telling his story to help raise awareness of mental health issues and in the years following Johnny has thrived.
He was an animator on the second episode of Bro Town, wrote and illustrated a published comic ‘Afi’, about a Samoan superhero, and has built a successful entertaining career as an Elvis Tribute artist - ‘Pacific Elvis - making appearances on The AM Show, The Project, Maori TV, and more.
Johnny also returned to Middlemore Hospital and Manukau SuperClinic in 2020 to put on a Christmas show for staff and thank health care workers.
He is also launching a mental health tour, with funding from the Generator, for people who are going through mental health problems.
“I want to let others with mental health problems know you can get well and live a good life again.”
“My advice to anyone with mental health concerns is to acknowledge it, take ownership of it, and most importantly tell someone that you are not ok.”