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THE ACTIONISTS

Blending community with hope — talking about mental health is everyone’s cup of tea

Blending community with hope — talking about mental health is everyone’s cup of tea
Kim Houston's first two Teas of Hope were sold-out events. (Photo: Thom Pierce)

Actionist Kim Houston’s Tea of Hope events create a safe space for her community in Durban where people can talk openly about wellness and their mental health journey.

You don’t have to be changing the world every day to be an Actionist. Even just once a year is enough. And the world doesn’t have to be the whole world — it can just be the world around you, and the lives of people in your own community.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The art of wearing funky, odd socks to make healthcare professionals more aware about depression and suicide

In 2016 Kim Houston lost her baby when she was six months pregnant. She had struggled with depression and anxiety before, but the loss pushed her to a whole new low.

“My actual journey started when I lost my baby. That was the most horrific and dark time of my life. Nobody knew how to comfort me.”

On her road to recovery, she experienced the inevitable ups and downs. For years she battled to come to terms with what had happened until, in 2020, she had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised for two weeks.

That was three years ago and these days Houston is completely open about the fact that things are not always easy. She still struggles and still has bouts of depression, but now she has decided to talk about it.

The one thing that concerned her the most was that in her community in Durban people didn’t talk about mental health. It was a subject that was swept under the rug and left for each person to deal with on their own. Houston could see people in her community battling, with no way to find help and nobody to talk to.

At 3am one September morning, Houston woke up with an idea. Not just a fragment of an idea but a fully formed, intricate vision of what she needed to do. In her mind, she saw an event in the community hall with guest speakers, music, fancy tableware and a large crowd of people sitting around talking openly about mental health. It was called “The Tea of Hope”.

Within two weeks she had planned and organised the entire event, reaching out to friends and family for help, and asking the community for donations of food and equipment. She had guest speakers and musical acts. She put the tickets up for sale to cover some of her own costs, advertising them on Facebook. They sold out in five days.

“People’s lives and eyes were opened to their mental health journey and wellness. That was the end goal. If I could just change one person’s perspective on how they view mental health… I wanted to be that person,” says Houston.

The first two Teas of Hope were major successes by anyone’s standards. These sold-out events got a community talking openly about mental health issues. This year Kim will be hosting her third annual Tea of Hope on 29 October, this time for women only. A men’s event will be held in November.

She may not have changed the whole world, but for one day a year, Houston reaches out and offers a safe space to talk for a community that desperately needs it. DM

It’s Women’s Month in South Africa and so, throughout August, The Actionists will exclusively be featuring stories of inspiring women who are working to make a positive change in the world around them.

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at www.theactionists.co.za or email [email protected]

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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