Caleb Ihaia

Apprentice Plumber, 22, Auckland

Twenty-two-year-old Caleb Ihaia is a second-year apprentice at his dad’s South Auckland-based plumbing business, DMI Plumbing. Five years ago, while studying in Wellington, Caleb started struggling with his mental health. Far away from home and having a hard time adjusting, he lost his confidence, stopped interacting with others and attending classes and wasn’t sleeping or eating enough. The situation reached crisis point when he found himself thinking about taking his own life. Fortunately, he stopped himself - but he knew it was time to go home. Neither of his parents were aware of what was going on, but when he opened up they were hugely supportive and helped him find the help he needed.

“Before starting uni, I had been doing some labouring work for a local company and I got back in touch with them. It was hard at first, as I didn’t want to feel like I’d failed by giving up uni but I realised I was feeling comfortable in a hands-on role. I decided it would be a good move to do an apprenticeship—and my dad was happy to take me on as part of the team.

“It’s going to take time for my mental health to fully recover but I feel much better now than ever in the past. I’m a lot more confident about talking about my mental health these days. In construction, the impression you get is a ‘toughen up mentality’ but since opening up I’ve realised that everyone has their own experience or a family member or friend with this experience. Mental health issues are widespread, so we need to get the conversation started to help people realise that they’re not alone.”