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Musician Ria Hall on motherhood and mental health

After announcing her venture into politics, the aspiring mayor opens up about her struggle with depression and how music has healed her
Pictures: Maree Wilkinson, Chrystal Marshall

Ria Hall is an award-winning musician, a devoted solo mum and a university student – and amid all the chaos, she has just announced she’s also running to be the mayor of Tauranga.

There’s a lot on her plate and after the kids are asleep, she’s often still working at 11pm. Having twice fought back from perinatal depression after having three babies in less than three years, the singer is certain she has what it takes to do it all.

“Everything I do evolves with and around my children,” Ria, 41, tells Woman’s Day. “Being a māmā is the core of why I’m so driven and incredibly ambitious to make a difference. I want to enable and empower a society that is open, connected and inclusive. I want my babies to experience that style of unity.”

The youngest of four, growing up in Tauranga, Ria says even as a child she was passionate about social change.

“My family are working class and not highly educated. But I really wanted to flip the script,” tells Ria, who has had chart hits with Stan Walker, Tiki Taane and Troy Kingi. “It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t modelled to you – what matters is your character and values are authentic. Times were a lot different in the ’80s, but I always knew I had a specific drive within me, a certain style of fire, from a very young age.”

The mum-to-be with musos Stan, Maisey Rika and Troy.

Ria has a deep aroha for her hometown. She says it wasn’t a surprise to any of her loved ones when she announced her mayoral candidacy in early May.

“It has always been burning in the back corners of my ngākau [heart]. It has been a matter of when, not if. There needs to be a change in leadership, a new direction taken in order to achieve the outcomes we need for an ever-expanding, multicultural, amazing city. I believe I’m the right person.”

Logistically, her life is a finely balanced juggle, but it’s manageable with the motto “routine is king”, says Ria. She recently completed a Bachelor in Te Reo Māori and Political Science, and has already enrolled in a Master’s of Regional Development.

Her days generally start at 6am, then it’s daycare and school drop-offs, before hitting the gym – a non-negotiable for her mental health – followed by work and study, picking up the kids and spending quality time with them before kai, cuddles and bedtimes. Then it’s back to work for Ria.

“I want my tamariki to know they can do anything they put their minds to and I tell them that every day,” says Ria, who is a mum to sons Te Rongotoa, five, and Hikareia, three, plus daughter Paiātehau, two. “The word ‘can’t’ is not in our vocabulary.”

Life’s a picnic with her kids (from left) Te Rongotoa, Hikareia and Paiātehau.

As a testament to this, amid her heavy schedule, Ria has also shared her experiences with motherhood for a new documentary, It Takes A Kāinga, alongside other strong Maori women such as Rose Martin and Aroha Harris. She shared her experiences in the hope of supporting other mums who are struggling with their mental health.

“It’s incredibly personal on many fronts,” she tells. “As a māmā raising babies on her own and having dealt with perinatal depression, I know it takes a lot to get to the point where I am now. It’s a real place of empowerment. I hope it empowers other māmā to feel like they aren’t isolated.”

The short doco explores pregnancy, birth and post-partum mental health specifically through a Māori lens. At one point during filming, Ria was overcome with emotion and broke down, crying freely. Her reaction came after she learnt the leading cause of death for pregnant and postpartum Māori women is suicide.

“I wasn’t aware of the reality of the situation. It really hit me like a tonne of bricks,” she explains. “It should hit everyone like a tonne of bricks. I hope it galvanises people to start treating māmā and babies in a way that supports their mana and tapu [sacredness] because it’s dark when you listen to those statistics.”

The state of maternal mental health in Aotearoa hits particularly close to home for Ria. She herself battled depression after both Hikareia and Paiātehau were born.

Struggling with a premature, colicky baby, a changing relationship with their father and the intensity of a rapidly expanding whānau took a toll on her mind, she confesses.

“For a long time, I wasn’t thinking well and no one could usher me safely out of it. I had the support of really tight friends and my whānau. But I had to work through all of that through my own determination.”

Ria originally thought she was unable to conceive children due to a health complication. But at 36, she unexpectedly discovered she was pregnant. “I had to take three pregnancy tests to believe it,” reveals the singer. She then went on to have two more children within three years.

“With my third, my baby girl, I was so scared. Not too long after, the dynamic with my then-partner shifted. Suddenly I was a solo mother with three young babies. I fell into a depressive state.

“Life chucks some curveballs, but I knew I could get through it. I knew that mamae [hurt] would only be temporary. I held on to that and was vulnerable enough to reach out for help.”

Oh, Boy! Hanging out with Taika Waititi.

For Ria, intensive counselling, loved ones, music and focusing on her physical wellbeing proved to be key in getting through the darkest times.

She says, “I got really into fitness and keeping physically well, so my mental state was a lot more manageable. Then I started having the confidence to create music and collaborate again. I was taking slow and steady steps back to my old self.”

She distinctly remembers a pivotal moment in 2022. It was when she was standing on stage with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, where she realised she finally felt happy again. She recalls, “I had come back to my tinana [body], my mind and my music. They have always been a constant for me.”

The healing process has also made Ria excited. Particularly when it comes to thinking about her children’s future and them starting families of their own.

“When my daughter becomes hapū [pregnant], it will be so different. I will have the tools to provide her with that mātauranga [wisdom], tikanga Māori [traditional customs] and on-going support. While that didn’t happen for me because my mum comes from the generation that didn’t have access to that, I am learning and can pass it on.”

But with all that parenting and a potential career in politics, will there still be time for Ria’s other love, her music?

Singing The World In Union during the 2011 Rugby World Cup Opening Ceremony at Eden Park.

Laughing, the singer answers without hesitation, “The beauty of being an artist is that it never goes away. I’ll still release albums – it’s just a matter of when. Like everything I choose to do, timing is everything.

“It’s quite thrilling to look back on the past five years. At the peaks and troughs of life that have gotten me to the point I’m at now. There have definitely been so many more highs than lows. The hard season is only temporary.”

It Takes A Kāinga is now streaming on YouTube

If you’re struggling with your mental health, please call or text 1737 at any time for free support from a trained counsellor.

For the Suicide Crisis Helpline, phone 0508 TAUTOKO.

In an emergency, always dial 111.

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