When 17-year-old Kaitaia College student Nina Griffiths lost two friends to suspected suicide, she felt she had to do something.
So she organised a community korero, with comedian and suicide awareness campaigner Mike King as the guest speaker at Te Ahu last week.
Almost 200 people turned up. Nina said the korero also had attracted huge interest on Facebook. A follow-up meeting took place at Te Ahu last evening.
Nina said she believed Kaitaia needed a youth-led suicide prevention programme where young people could go for help.
"I lost two mates in the last couple of months, and we shouldn't have to lose so many before we do something. Reluctance to talk about suicide is not working as a preventative," she said.
"People say go to counsellors. But that is not a youth-friendly environment, it's so clinical. That's why the [RAID movement] was so awesome."
Far North RAID was a Kaitaia-based branch of the Whangarei RAID movement, established in 2012 following a rash of youth suicides. The scheme ended after funding lapsed.
Nina said she knew RAID worked because she had a friend who said it became somewhere he could go. Ngati Hine Health Trust general manager Mariameno Kapa-Kingi, who oversees the Whangarei-based programme, agreed that it worked because it saw youth at the front line, while professionals and service providers were the "second circle".
"Our experience is that young people prefer to talk to young people. It is so important to have these spaces that are safe for [youth]," she said. RAID was looking at re-establishing a Far North branch.
Nina said she had been told there had been least five suspected suicides in Kaitaia in the last couple of months, including two over one weekend.
"The thing is it is hard, but it's also really hard knowing this is happening and nothing is going on at all to change it," she said.
She had spent some weeks organising last week's community talk, including advertising it on Facebook, and although she did not directly invite service providers, it had been shared to them by others. She also planned to call another meeting, inviting service providers and government agencies to hear what the youth of Kaitaia had to say.
Mike King, who in 2009 began sharing his own experiences with mental illness and addiction on talkback radio in 2009, and formed the Nutters' Club Charitable Trust (since been renamed the Key to Life Charitable Trust) in 2010, said he was impressed with Nina's ability to get so many people together to seek community solutions to Kaitaia's youth suicide 'epidemic' but was scathing about the failure of government social services' representatives to attend.
Their absence, he said, sent a message to young people that adult officials didn't care about them or what they had to say.
The Child, Youth and Family regional director for Te Tai Tokerau, Dr John Langley, said a huge amount of work had been carried out in Northland in the area of preventing youth suicide by agencies including CYF, the Ministry of Social Development, the district health board, education, police and Te Puni Kkiri. That important interagency work was continuing.
"We are also extremely supportive of Nina Griffiths' commitment to raising awareness in this area, and in encouraging young people to talk about their worries and access the help and support that is available to them if they need it," he said.
"Mr King seems to have misinterpreted the reason why we were not able to attend that specific forum, and he is wrong. It's great that he wants to raise awareness around youth suicide, and we would be happy to talk to him about the work that is being done."
Kaitaia police Senior Sergeant Geoff Ryan checked his emails and diary when the Northland Age asked him why police were not there.
"We weren't invited," he said.
"If we were, I'd have been there. I'm interested in anything like this that could help the community."