In an article published online by the New Zealand Herald on 4 July 2017, entitled “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted: The Untold Story of Teen Suicide in the North,” I read of the harrowing, silent crises that ordinary New Zealanders face every day.
Please take the time to read the article in the link below (PLEASE NOTE: Trigger warning for some graphic content).
I have had too many precious friends, family members and acquaintances who have faced similar situations. This has affected myself, my church and my community so deeply that we never have never talked about it because the truth is too terrible.
People often ask me why I left my small, beautiful hometown of Nelson to pursue tertiary study in Christchurch. I hear voices all around me telling me that my degree will be worth nothing in the end, that I will only succeed if I have a specific, well-paid job title in mind, and that I won’t be able to change the world around me.
When I tell others that I plan to change my Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communication to a double major with Political Science, people get nervous.
“Oh dear, don’t get too Political!” “Can’t you do something, you know, a bit less…political?” “Can you tell Council that I want my rates lowered?” “You could be a politician and makes loads of money!”
But…if I had it my own way, then I would have gone to drama school. Or film school. Or art school, at a small polytechnic where it was safe for me to hide. But this isn’t about me. This is about people. I don’t want to be a politician and I don’t want to make loads of money for myself. This is about taking responsibility and stewardship, and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
I think of those who have gone before, such as the likes of William Wilberforce, who dedicated his life to abolishing the slave trade within the British Empire. During Wilberforce’s time, to suggest that the African slaves – who had been taken from their homeland and treated and sold as objects – were people and subject to equal rights, was controversial and heavily frowned upon. Regardless of the expectations and opinions from his political counterparts, Wilberforce remained steadfast and succeeded. In 1833, three days before his death, the second reading of the Emancipation Act was passed by Parliament, and a month later, the abolition of the slave trade was put into effect.
“From every consideration I shall deal frankly with the House, by declaring, that no act of policy whatever will make me swerve from my duty and oblige me to abandon a measure which I think will be an honour to humanity…Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce, speaking to the British House of Commons on 12 May 1789.
So what has William Wilberforce got anything to do with the current suicide rates amongst young people in New Zealand? From my perspective, everything.
Why did the Government cut mental health funding in Canterbury, only 5 years after the Christchurch earthquakes of February 2011? Why is there such little emphasis on suicide prevention and little to almost no advocacy from bureaucrats and those within Governance? Why do we tend to treat those with mental health issues as outcasts? Why have we turned a blind eye to the suicide epidemic, and act with complete shock and utter surprise when we’re given the annual statistics from the Ministry of Health? Why do we rarely talk about it, when the most important thing IS to talk about it?
Everyone else is running around pointing fingers at millennials and their avocado toast, telling them that they will never be able to afford their own homes. Everyone else is running around telling you that your degree is worthless and won’t get you a decent job. Everyone else is running around, completely oblivious to the fact that the statistics of teenage suicide in this country is still rising.
But what can you do? You can talk about it. You can start the discussion. You can break the silence. Be like William Wilberforce and take action for those who have no other hope.
He aha te mea nui? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
What is the most important thing? It is people, it is people, it is people.