Kaitaia youth struggle to get adult support

By Simon Collins

Kaitaia's Nina Griffiths and comedian Mike King at the community korero in July. Photo / Supplied
Kaitaia's Nina Griffiths and comedian Mike King at the community korero in July. Photo / Supplied

A Kaitaia schoolgirl who has organised three community meetings about a spate of suspected youth suicides in the town says she is frustrated that adult agencies have not been more supportive.

Nina Griffiths, a 17-year-old final-year student at Kaitaia College, says there are many "awesome" adults in the town but the agencies have not been able to meet the young people's primary need - a secure "youth space".

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has funded a short-term "pop-up" youth space in a vacant shop, but its contract will soon expire.

"It's really frustrating to see that all it takes is a couple of emails and you have three community meetings and a lot of people wanting to help," she said.

"If I can do it, and I'm a high-school student, why aren't others doing it?"

Nina and a group of young people in the town have been working with comedian and suicide awareness campaigner Mike King for the past three years, well before the latest deaths of five young males aged between 17 and 25 since late May.

"We knew that it was an issue. About 10 years ago in Kaitaia there were 10 suicides at the same time," she said.

The group was supported by the Ngati Hine Health Trust to form a local branch of a support group called Respond to All In Distress (Raid) last year, but the group lapsed.

"One of the members of our group who really benefited from Raid, and suffered when it stopped, was the first one to take his life [in May]," Nina said.

"He was a very close friend of mine. He was a skater, he had a lot of ideas."

She said adults had volunteered to run activities for young people such as surfing, horse-riding, yoga, meditation, cooking, drama and te reo Maori. But they needed a youth centre as a base for organising activities.

"We have all these community members who don't have a place to connect," she said.

"They want to help, because obviously losing our youth is not positive in any kind of way. So we are hoping to connect those mentors with the young people.

"It's about getting the skills and expertise passed on to young people. This person might pick up three kids and go and do something, and they might find they enjoy it, and also they get connected with a community member to call when they're in trouble."

We are a community in crisis, but we have such awesome people and our social services are actually totally stretched beyond what they can do.
Nina Griffiths

Nina agreed with a statement by Ricky Houghton of He Korowai Trust that Kaitaia was "a community in crisis".

"To be honest, from what I have seen, a lot of the problem is drugs, is methamphetamine. I think that has led up to a lot of it. Also the unemployment, of course," she said.

"We are a community in crisis, but we have such awesome people and our social services are actually totally stretched beyond what they can do."

But King, who was at Shirley Boys' High School in Christchurch today, said Kaitaia's problems were repeated in rich as well as poor areas.

"Economics has nothing to do with it. You have affluent children committing suicide just like you have people from more impoverished communities," he said.

"The problem is disconnection between adults and young people. Young people don't talk to adults any more, and when they talk to adults they get made to feel worse. They get labelled with names like 'attention-seeker' and 'they need to harden up'."

He said young people felt like failures if adults presented themselves as "perfect". He urged adults to be open about their own weaknesses.

"If we don't hide our problems, the world becomes a better place, it becomes more inclusive," he said.

King's Key to Life Trust has developed a programme to train "student supporters" in schools to listen to other students' problems and connect them with helping agencies, with key staff in each agency identified to champion the students' issues. He has submitted the proposal to the Education and Health Ministries.

Director of Mental Health Dr John Crawshaw said the Health Ministry was supportive of the programme and was discussing it with King and the Education Ministry.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- NZ Herald

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