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Fighting the good fight

With twin four-year-olds and a busy work schedule to contend with, Lotto presenter Sonia Gray is usually more suited to calming disputes than creating them.

But as the well-known television personality found out earlier this year, some things in life are worth fighting for. Sonia, who has personal experience of depression and anxiety, decided to speak out about the discrimination she faced when applying for life insurance. The mum-of-two told a newspaper how an insurance company had denied her the rate offered to her husband because of her history of mental illness. 

“I got a letter saying ‘unfortunately you have been declined’. A lot of people would just have accepted that, but I didn’t.” 

The letter Sonia received, which said she would have to pay an additional premium to get the same insurance coverage as her husband, came as a complete surprise. “I was so shocked by it. I’m not usually a fighter with these things, but I thought it was so unfair. It was discrimination.” 

When a representative from the insurance company phoned her, Sonia told her the rate that had been proposed was unacceptable and arranged for the original terms to be reinstated. “I told her I was really upset by the letter. They said people with depression have a higher risk of heart disease, but there is no New Zealand evidence of that. You go for treatment and things work out, so you shouldn’t be treated any different to anyone else.” 

Sonia, who featured in a Like Minds, Like Mine campaign back in 2000, decided to discuss the insurance issue publicly because she wanted to raise awareness of the challenges faced by people with experience of mental illness. “I don’t know whether anything has changed with the insurance because the rules seem really arbitrary. There must be so many people who have had this issue. While in my case, I’m financially okay, what if you were depressed and money was tight? It just felt like they were squeezing more money out of people.” 

Motivation to keep well 

Sonia’s experience with depression and anxiety has spanned over 10 years, but she’s committed to keeping well. 

During Mental Health Awareness Week, she served as a Mental Health Foundation (MHF) Ambassador and helped promote the theme of Connect. 

Some of her personal strategies for keeping well include using a meditation app on her mobile, working out at the gym and taking time out to catch up with girlfriends. “I still take medication and I have to maintain certain things every day to keep mentally healthy. I try really hard to do mindfulness – it’s thinking about what’s happening in your body.” 

Sonia says one of the “silver linings” of experiencing mental distress is you become “much more attuned with where you’re at”, physically and emotionally. “Even when I was really low, I knew I had to drag my butt out to exercise. It’s really important to me because it’s that self-reward and knowledge that I’ve done something positive. I’ve also become good at listening to how I talk to myself and identifying what’s not helpful or correct.”

 Through her role as Ambassador for the MHF, she has become an advocate of the Five Ways to Wellbeing – Connect, Keep Learning, Be Active, Take Notice and Give – and would like to see more New Zealanders using them in their daily lives. “The Five Ways are so simple and yet so effective,”

Sonia says. “I’ve been really public about my own issues and I’ve been involved with various aspects of mental health [promotion] in the past.

I want people to know they’re not the only ones going through it.” 

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