Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

"You matter to me."

Those four words were the start of Joe Paulo's battle back from the brink. He'd planned to "clock out indefinitely". Now he's living a rich, fulfilling life letting people in "dark places" know there's an alternative to suicide.

Joe's journey is one of the stories of hope collected by the New Zealand Herald as part of our Break The Silence series about youth suicide.

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We wanted to showcase people who have successfully faced battles with suicide and wider mental health issues to let others know there is hope.

Break the Silence: Q&A on Herald special series

Investigation: The untold story of teen suicide in the North

New Zealand has the second worst suicide rate among those aged 25 and under in the developed world. It has the worst suicide rate among those aged 15-19. The number of young people killing themselves has remained largely unchanged for about two decades. The series aims to encourage young people to talk; to know there's hope; to know help is available. And we want to start a national conversation about what New Zealand is doing about the issue - and whether it's enough.

The portraits were taken by Herald visual journalist Mike Scott.

• Some of the stories of hope came from the HopeWalk Suicide Prevention Movement. Find them on Facebook.

Joe Paulo, 31

"March 17, 2016, was the day I decided it was time to clock out indefinitely. I wanted to deregister, sign out, close up shop, deactivate my existence, resign from my dreams, disappear from the planet and never be heard from again.

"I had a complete total meltdown. Nothing and no one mattered anymore.

"My mind was so low in the valley that it was only a matter of time. I was super angry, I started drinking every night to numb the pain because I just couldn't sleep. I feared the future not knowing what it was now going to look like.

"My depression became an annoyance, my marriage felt like it was on the rocks. My career felt like it was sure to crash and my friends turned on me. No one wanted to understand me.

"It was my manager, Tim, who I thought at the time wanted to get rid of me, that pulled me out of my emotional drowning. He said the very words I needed to hear after desperately trying to call me: 'You matter to me.'

"I was lucky to have a colleague and friend who recognised the signs and sprang into action. She did what many others are too afraid to do, she took action. Had it not been for these two, I wouldn't be here.

"Fast-forward 18 months and I have a personal trainer, Blake Hinton, who committed to seeing me winning in life by using boxing as a medium. My marriage has healed; I have an improved relationship with my family and a strong network of people around me.

"Today I use my journey to help raise awareness for mental health with my first corporate fight in June this year for prostate cancer and suicide awareness.

"For those of you stuck in a dark place. I need you to hear this regardless of whatever negative thoughts or things around you. You matter.

"I need you so much to embrace this truth.You always matter.

"Get some good friends around you and stick with them no matter what. I know it's hard and daunting but trust me when I say this: It's okay to ask for help."

Jazz Thornton, 21

"I read my Child Youth and Family file a few years ago and it states that I went from "bubbly and energetic" to "dull and lacking emotion."

"You see, at the age of 3 my innocence was taken away from me by the men in my life and I guess you could say that my life has been a process of trying to gain back that 'bubbly and energetic' girl that was once written about.

"I struggled a lot growing up with not ever feeling good enough and I began to develop the core belief that I was unloveable. This led to a long string of suicide attempts, with my first at age 12.

"However there is one attempt I remember very clearly. I woke up in the Intensive Care Unit in hospital after being put into a coma following a very serious attempt. It was at that moment that I realised just how close to death I was and that I had a choice now to live or die.

"I chose to live.

"While my battle wasn't won over night, I was so incredibly blessed to have a couple of amazing people who knew my entire situation and loved me anyway. They didn't let me dwell, but instead taught me that nothing is going to change unless I choose to make the change. And that's what I did.

"I chose to not add to the statistics, but to begin to break them. I am now speaking in high schools across New Zealand and Australia with an organisation I founded with my friend, Genevieve Mora, called Voices of Hope.

"We were fortunate enough to receive $30,000 from Jetstar to fund our project as we work towards seeing our suicide statistics become non-existent."

Ewa-jane Rudolph, 30

"I grew up in what I call the hood; straight outta Southside. Rewa!!

"It all started when I was diagnosed with diabetes. At the age of 5 I was dealing with not only an illness, but the sexual abuse from a loved one; a person who I looked up to, a person I thought I could trust.

"I grew up faster than I should have. At 14 I wanted out, so that's exactly what I did. I was in and out of the streets and had a 'mess with me and I'll thump you' attitude.

"At the age of 19, I moved to the countryside trying to start fresh. Turns out it topped my life off. I fell pregnant and lost my son.

"Drugs and abuse was the normal thing. This is when I really fell deep. Drugs were my biggest friend; trying to kill myself became an everyday thing.

"I tried so hard but never got anywhere. My partner at the time had moved away with me to a little township where I thought things were going to change. They did in a way I will never forget. Early one morning I was sexually assaulted. At this point in time I was totally mind f*****, felt alone, had no hope at all.

"I wanted more than anything to just end my life!!! There was a voice in my head telling me to die, that I'm not worth it. I couldn't take anymore. I wanted out!

"Then my phone rang. That one person that can save your life saved mine. He knew when to text, he knew when to call and that is exactly what he did. Not knowing what just happened or what I was planning, he put a smile on my face and made me feel like nothing else mattered.

"He is the reason I held on. He is the reason I am here today. He is why I smile and look forward to days ahead.

"So for everyone going through a tough time, feeling alone, feeling helpless, unloved - you matter! There is always someone listening. never give up and know your self worth."

Lucy Wymer, 22

Lucy Wymer, 22. Photo / Mike Scott
Lucy Wymer, 22. Photo / Mike Scott

"Surprisingly, I am quite excited to write this article. Excited, because a few years ago I would not have dreamed about opening up about this matter.

"When people see the word 'depression', they freak out. It often screams 'damaged goods'. This could not be further from the truth. Being sad, angry, happy, confused, alone - together these feelings make us human. How could we ever expect to be balanced all the time in this crazy world?

"It is so important to remember that every single person has a different story, so think before you speak.

"You may never realise how fragile a person is until it is too late. It is often the people that portray themselves so richly as happy, who are actually overwhelmed by depression.

"For myself, depression hit me like a ton of bricks in my last year of college. It was triggered by someone close to me who had taken their own life.

"I was confused and embarrassed. I had no idea how to deal with it. I knew absolutely nothing about depression. It is so much more than simply feeling sad; it is indescribably draining. I spent a lot of time in bed, hiding away from the harsh realities of life.

"If I could give one piece of advice to any person suffering from depression, I would tell them to never, ever, bottle up their feelings and anxieties.

"With depression and suicide having such a large impact on New Zealand, I think it is about time that we are all more educated about this. Maybe if I had known a little more about it, I would have sought the help that I needed much sooner.

"I have noticed that whenever one talks about seeing a counsellor, people tend to lower their voices - like it is an embarrassment that you are not coping. I cannot speak highly enough of my counsellor; without her I would not be where I am today. I am now in a position where I can work through any of life's hiccups myself.

"I have tried to avoid the words 'depression' and 'suicide' for the last few years. These two words are extremely raw to me. They always will be. I have wonderful days and I also have awful ones. I laugh, I cry. I'm human.

"It is totally okay to not be okay. The most important thing is that you're moving in the right direction. Never sit still and dwell on it. Get up, get out and get help. "

Zach McGrath, 33

"My name is Zach and for as long as I can remember I have battled anxiety, depression and self-image issues.

"I remember the anxiety and depression taking hold in my late teens. It was then that I started drinking regularly as a way to help me loosen up, relax and become more confident around others in public.

"At the age of 19 I came out as gay and thanks to the huge support and acceptance from
my amazing mum and friends at the time it was like being able to breathe again. But
something still didn't feel right in my mind. The anxiety, depression and image issues
never left me, but I met new friends and became extremely social as a way to mask what
was going on in my mind. I thought that I had everything under control until I separated
from my first partner and it all came undone.

"My thoughts, moods, drinking and behaviour spiralled out of control until I thought the only way out was to end my life which I attempted to do twice in one year. Every minute, hour, day, week, month and year was a battle but I learnt to put on a giant smile and a front which I called 'The Zach Show', always seen to be happy and laughing, which I became known for, until everything took a dark nosedive.

"On April 23, 2014, I became sick of the front and just wanted it to all be over for good. I felt so extremely stressed with financial problems, unhappy with work, my body and my life in general that I just couldn't take anymore and something I'd thought a lot about took hold. I woke up. it hadn't worked!

"It has now been two years since that night and I can finally talk about it and be honest
without being extremely embarrassed and ashamed of what I attempted to do ... end my
life due to anxiety, depression, stress and unhappiness.

"Two years on and a lot of rehabilitation and advice and help from health professionals
and I'm the happiest I've ever been. I've learnt that even in the darkest of times there is hope and you can love yourself even with your imperfections.

"Mental illness is a major problem in New Zealand which is swept under the rug more often than not and it's about time people took notice! This is my story which I am sharing in the hope that it may help others and let them know that they are not alone."

Olivia Tomuli, 26

"This year has been the toughest of my life so far.

"Never have I felt so alone and empty among countless loving family, friends and colleagues who I know care about me. Never have I felt so worthless and humiliated, so much that almost every day I wish I wasn't alive.

"The very first night I attempted to harm myself I felt so inadequate and worthless. The pain was too much and I just couldn't handle it anymore. I wanted to stop the thoughts and pain.

"At that point I knew I had to call someone. I reached out and called my mum who lives overseas. She stayed on the line with me, trying to console me until my flatmate came home.

"I still struggle to this day and continue to reach out to hear someone say to me 'it's going to be okay'.

"Through those struggles which bring upon that unbearable sinking feeling, I've learnt that those moments of pain are only temporary. The pain eventually passes.

"After each episode I realise I am stronger than I think I am! Every night before I sleep I hope the next day will be better, which is better than to have no hope at all.

"To all fellow sufferers of mental illness, it is my sincerest hope that you too will "hope to be able to endure all things". I also hope we remember we are stronger than we think we are.

Rebecca Faavaoga, 36

"I was 15 when I started to question who I was.

"I am New Zealand-born, a half caste - which means I am of Scottish and Tongan descent. Because of my brown skin, people assumed I was Maori or not white at all. But then I would visit Tonga and I would get labelled as Palangi (white).

"Not only was there this battle of identity, but I was also faced with a teacher yelling at me at the age of 10 in front of my class, humiliating me with words of frustration, saying 'Are you stupid?' or 'Are you deaf and dumb?'

"I learnt that day that the power of life and death is in the tongue. That day my life was shaped and I lived out those words thinking I was stupid, deaf and dumb!

"Because I did not know my identity, I didn't know how much I was worth so I attempted suicide as I wanted to end the pain of feeling unloved, rejected and hurt. I am thankful it didn't work and two other attempts later were still unsuccessful.

"I realised I was good at something which was basketball. I played basketball representing Auckland under 14, 16, 18, 20 and then open. I was honoured to play for Tonga at the Oceania Games and also tried for the New Zealand team, but failed because of no confidence.

"During this time I also had a dear friend commit suicide at the age of 15. I was beating myself up for a very long time that I could have done something as I saw him the day before and woke to hear the heartbreaking news.

"I felt hopeless because of my thinking and always questioned if I was really loved.

"A day that changed my life was visiting Cathedral Cove with a friend and we were climbing these rocks. Long story short, we climbed so high up a cliff face and I tried to lift my leg up to an unreachable rock and fell backwards, down to the crashing waves. My friend yelled 'God help!' and she said it was like a hand under my back lifted me up onto the very rock I tried to reach.

"I knew that day there is a God who loves me and saved me for a purpose and has given me a hope and a future.

"I still struggle at times, but I have tools and support to keep overcoming! #StrongerTogether #Don'tKeepSilent #You'reNotAlone."

Elise McDonald, 28

"I grew up in a Christian home. At the age of 22, I fell pregnant. My dad was so disappointed in me that he didn't talk to me at the start of my pregnancy.

"I couldn't go to church for the first few months as I was frightened I would be judged by others.

"My mum was with me when I gave birth to my baby girl, but after she left I started having panic attacks. I felt really shaky and like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. I hated this feeling. My daughter went and stayed with my dad and step-mum as I wasn't coping.

"One morning I 'd had enough; I was going to try and take my life.

"I called my mental health support worker and told her I was going to commit suicide. She asked if she should call the cops or if I'd be okay until she arrived. I said I'd be okay until she got to me, but after hanging up the phone I attempted to take my life.

"I remember waking up and thinking my time wasn't up. God has a plan for me and it wasn't my time to go yet.

"I got taken to hospital and put on watch for 48 hours. I got the help I needed.

"Please people, ask for help. There are people like myself that want to help people that feel like I did.

"You may feel alone, but so many of us want to help you."

Anita Mary, 48

"I guess growing up taking in language and messages not meant for a child affected me.

"Or it could've been the inappropriate touching?

"Or maybe the loneliness from constant chaos, the 18 schools, the emotional abandonment?

"Whatever it was, I started self-harming aged 12, turning to suicide attempts throughout my younger years, along with addiction, prostitution, abortion and mental illness.

"It all started to disappear when I began sharing my story with others through art, poetry and the spoken word. Offering others the same lifelines that had always slipped through my fingers gives me a new purpose and passion.

"There is so much power in shared exposure. Unity of the heart."

• Support the Mental Health Foundation by texting 'Break the Silence' to 2446 to make an automatic $3 donation.

WHERE TO GET HELP:

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.