Whangārei cafe owner shaves her dreadlocks for ‘I Am Hope’ mental health charity

Jess Olsen bravely shaved her 13-year-old dreadlocks for I am Hope on Friday, her husband, Zac, looks on proudly. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Jess Olsen knows all too well the struggles that can come from loved ones committing suicide.

In a bid to spread mental health awareness, she has shaved off her 13-year-old dreadlocks.

After hearing Mike King speaking passionately about the I Am Hope charity, Olsen decided she wanted to support it.

Olsen has seen two of her close friends commit suicide, one at 18, another at 22.

“It’s devastating, grieving a loss to suicide,” she said.

“It’s such a hard grief, there’s so much anger and so much self-blame.”

Olsen said she doesn’t want anyone to suffer through that anymore, or grieve that loss.

According to the mental health foundation, approximately 538 people died by suspected suicide in the 2021/22 financial year. Aotearoa New Zealand has some of the highest youth suicide rates in the world, something that Olsen wants to see change.

“Mental health is even more important than physical health,” she said.

“It feels like only in my lifetime that it’s starting to be more acceptable but there’s still stigma around it.”

Her daughters, Moana and Ariel may be hesitant about a dread-free mum, but Olsen has been supported hugely by the small-business community, family and friends.

“Everyone’s just been amazing with the support, the positive comments,” she said.

Olsen said showing her daughters why she was shaving her headwas important.

She explained to them: “When you get a hurt body part or if you feel sick, we go to the doctor and we get the right medicine or we get the surgery at the hospital”.

“But I said at the moment, if you have hurt and soreness in your heart and your feelings, there’s not many doctors around to help you feel better, so that’s why we’re doing this to try and raise some money so especially other young people, if they feel like sick in their heart and their feelings, they can get help straight away so they don’t feel sad.”

Olsen said speaking to people working in the health sector, “they’re just overwhelmed, and it’s crisis point for them. Everyone’s under resourced, and everyone’s at the end of their tether and at the point of their own mental health crisis.”

The givealittle page for Olsen’s venture has so far raised over $5,700, and will remain open for donations until February next year.

While she told the Advocate any donation is amazing, she’d love to see an amount of $13,000 raised for each year of growing her dreads.

“They’re such a huge part of my identity,” she said.

“At first I was having some big fat cries at night, like you know, I love my dreads. It’s what I’ve always wanted, it’s not that I was ready to not have dreadlocks, but I am excited to experience swimming in the ocean and towelling my head and it being dry,” she laughed.

“I just feel so overwhelmed with so much gratitude for the people that came and supported,” she said.

“I was filled with so much love from everyone here, and seeing that in everyone’s eyes as it was happening and just really feeling that energy and that love.”

And as for what she’s going to do with them?

“I’ve always joked that I’m going to sew them into a beanie or a hat and then whip it off and freak people out,” she said.

Olsen plans to run a competition at her sandwich and coffee bar, Hello Pickle, on their Facebook page, where people can guess how heavy the dreads are, to win a voucher.

You can donate to the cause at the givealittle page by clicking here

Where to get help:

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

• Youth services: (06) 3555 906

• Youthline: 0800 376 633

• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)

• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

• Helpline: 1737

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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