Suicide Prevention

By Lawrence Gullery

Jim Morunga was 22 years old when "the lights went out" and he first thought about "taking my life".

As a young man he had an idyllic childhood growing up in a Maori family. He loved playing sport but one day during a game of rugby a serious injury to his eyes changed his life forever.

"I was in Auckland hospital having an operation ... but I had lost my eyesight. I was married, two children, working on a farm. The lights went out and I had every reason to say, life sucks and I want out of here, there is nothing here for me.

"So I thought I could jump out of the 6th floor of the hospital building. But then I thought, what if I jumped out and hit the concrete, break my leg. I could end up not seeing or walking," he said.

He also thought about what his parents would want and realised suicide was not the answer.

"But I had to make those decisions on my own, by myself. And that is why I am saying we are failing not only as Maori but also with the art of korero [speaking] to each other," he said.

Mr Morunga told his story to the Hastings District Council's Maori Joint Committee this week, to raise awareness of his work as the co-ordinator of the Kia Piki te Ora programme, under Te Kupenga Hauora-Ahuriri, which promoted the New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy.

One of the programme's objectives is to promote "communication and connection" based around whaikorero and whakapapa, or speaking of and learning about family heritage and history.

"In the last 18 months with Kia Piki Te Ora I have spoken to many kaumatua and rangatahi [youth] and in terms of rangatahi, I have to say that I find a few often don't know who their father is," Mr Morunga said.

"The gaps are widening in terms of whakapapa and whanaungatanga [family history and relationships]. The challenge for us is what can we do about it?

"We need to revitalise the art of korero, because if we can't communicate, then we have no idea what's going on in our lives."

Mr Morunga said better understanding of what families were feeling, the pressures they were under, can go towards preventing people "thinking about taking their lives".

"Never mind about the tweets [Twitter] or other electronic communication. We need to get back to kanohi ki te kanohi [face to face]. It doesn't cost you much and we're not asking the Crown for millions of dollars or the council for new playing fields," he said.

"But we would like the council to lead the way, in terms of encouraging communication and connection."

Mr Morunga said the council and DHBs can play a significant role in helping to reduce incidents of suicide or self harm through supporting events which aim to minimise the problem.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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