Two bright sneakers were among 606 pairs of shoes laid out at Whanganui's Majestic Square yesterday morning.

The sneakers belonged to Whanganui woman Esther Huirama, described by her heartbroken mother as having a "big heart" and a "love for basketball".

Each pair of shoes represented one of the 606 New Zealanders lost to suicide in the last year.

606 pairs of shoes each representing a New Zealander lost to suicide last year placed at Majestic Square in Whanganui. Photo/ Supplied
606 pairs of shoes each representing a New Zealander lost to suicide last year placed at Majestic Square in Whanganui. Photo/ Supplied

Esther's mother, Tasi Huirama, and two of her sisters, Abigail and Sharon, helped place the shoes. They are travelling the North Island as part of a campaign to raise awareness about suicide and mental health issues.

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Tasi said seeing the number of shoes laid out together was overwhelming.

"Is that what we have let it come to ... every pair of shoes had a story and I could feel the emotion streaming through each pair as I helped lay them."

Still feeling the grief, she spoke fondly of Esther, who took her own life last year at the age of 26.

"Not everyone is strong-willed, and we need to help these people. Whanau are sometimes too scared to reach out because they are scared their loved ones will be put in an institution."

The national campaign - run by yeswecare.nz - started two weeks ago with one group covering the North Island and the another travelling the South Island - each taking with them 606 pairs of shoes.

Jane Stevens, a grieving mother who lost her son Nicky two years ago, is part of the North Island crew. They started in Cape Reinga and have travelled to more than 20 different towns and cities.

"The tour is about breaking the silence, getting whanau to talk and changing the stigma," Ms Stevens said.

YesWeCan.nz campaigner Jane Stevens holding her lost sons shoes with Tasi holding her lost daughters shoes. Photo/ Supplied
YesWeCan.nz campaigner Jane Stevens holding her lost sons shoes with Tasi holding her lost daughters shoes. Photo/ Supplied

This Sunday, in recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day, the group will meet the South Island crew in Wellington to lay shoes on the steps of Parliament.

"The whanau we have meet along the way will also be joining us and we will be calling on the government for an independent commission of inquiry into mental health and suicide," Ms Stevens said.

The campaign group have a series of pledges that have been sent out to all political parties.

"All parties have responded and signed the pledge apart from National and Act."

She said suicide rates were only getting worse and change needed to happen.

"We need to have a hard look at our culture and have a real think about what is happening."