Don't be afraid to ask a mate if they are okay.

That was one of the messages a new Maori focussed youth suicide prevention intiative launched on Friday aims to get across over the next three years.

Kiritahi Firmin of the Kimiora Trust said 579 people ended their lives last year, and that Maori featured highly.

"We support everyone - but our own kids are taking their lives. We need a strategy focussed on our own culture," Ms Firmin told a hui held at Whanganui City College.


She asked those present, including representatives from schools and kindred agencies, to share resources and help one another.

"Anything that makes a difference is welcome," Ms Firmin said.

Discussing suicide, especially in schools, was controversial and there were those who thought it should not be openly discussed, Ms Firmin said.

"But we need to encourage people to talk about it. The traditional approach is not working. We can't wrap our kids up in cotton wool - they know more than we might think."

Discussions on issues like how to start a conversation with a mate who may be suicidal were needed, she said.

"It's as simple as saying 'are you alright? I don't know how to help you but I'm here and you are not alone'."

The trust plans various activities over the coming three years, including returning Maori youths to their home marae.

"We've been very urbanised. The marae is where they can learn their identity and find their strengths," Ms Firmin said.

Youth also needed to be involved in organising activities, not just talked at.

Ms Firmin said the trust was working on expanding the programme through Taranaki as well as as throughout the Whanganui region.