All Black Piri Weepu is fronting a new suicide prevention campaign launched in Northland by Lifeline Aotearoa, as the helpline service expands its operations in the region.
The number of suicides in Northland in the year to June 30 was 26 - the highest number in at least five years - and figures until the end of October suggest up to 32.
"We all know the suicide statistics, particularly for young Maori, are shocking. There's help out there, but often people who are feeling suicidal are too ashamed to reach out. I wanted to let people know it's good to ask for help. There's no shame in it," Weepu said.
The community helpline service operates a Northland branch office out of Whangarei, which fields local calls, but also answers calls nationally from an 0800 number.
There are about 4000 calls from Northland to Lifeline Aotearoa each year - about five per cent of calls made to Lifeline nationwide. That figure could be higher as the service cannot trace calls from mobile phones.
Liz Cassidy Nelson is the new regional manager for Lifeline Aotearoa in Whangarei, after its recent merger with the Auckland-based Lifeline Aotearoa. She hopes to develop the service in Whangarei and expand it to the Mid and Far North.
Ms Nelson is delighted to have Weepu on board the suicide prevention campaign, which has the tagline "Back your mates, back yourself, back your whanau. Suicide - it affects us all".
The campaign also features team members from Te Ara Hou Residential services and the Maori Anglican Youth Mission, both of whom were keen to be involved in raising the profile of suicide prevention.
Plans for the new year include suicide prevention workshops all across Northland, for any schools or groups that want them.
Ms Nelson said first on her agenda was recruiting more volunteers, and re-opening the face-to-face counselling unit.
More counsellors would also be brought on board with a training unit, bringing in trainees from NorthTec who would be supervised in their work with clients.
Next year, a Whangarei branch of Kidsline will also be set up - trained and supervised young people taking phone calls from other youth.
Lifeline Aotearoa's Whangarei branch has a local toll-free number, (09) 437-5055, or you can call-free 0800 543 354. Additionally, the suicide crisis helpline is 0508 TAUTOKO (0508 828 865).