If there's one thing Jimi Hunt could change about depression stories, it's that they wouldn't all be "so f*****g depressing".

He announces this loudly at our cafe table. Eyeballing me as exasperation leaps from his flung-up hands.

Never has mental health dominated the headlines like it has in the past 12 months.

The fact that it's likely to become an election issue is a "massive step forward", but it's only the beginning.


Hunt, 36, is one man trying to make a difference.

He was suicidal, but is now creator of mental health charity Live More Awesome.

He makes money as an international corporate speaker. He's written two books, designed and built the World's Largest Water Slide; plus Gratitude in Schools' programme. He was finalist for New Zealander of the Year, and Innovator of the Year in 2014. And he's star of the documentary A Bit Mental, where in 2012 he paddled 425km on a lilo down the Waikato River to raise awareness for depression.

He's not your run-of-the-mill guy. For starters, he's wearing hot-pink floral Nike today. He's looking pretty slick, actually. Printed blazer. Necklace. Hair to the side. Brass bracelet with LMA (Live More Awesome) engraved on it.

He's confident. Swears a lot. Challenges things. Is loquacious.

Former All Black turned philanthropist John Kirwan has done more for depression than any single Kiwi, he notes.

Kirwan took our nation's slowly unfurling crisis from something that wasn't even talked about, to something people were actually living with.

"But that was 15 years ago and that conversation hasn't really evolved."

The key to nabbing the public's interest lies in eliminating the word "illness". And while the "sharp end of the stick" do have bipolar, psychosis and schizophrenia, all of New Zealand can relate to the term "mental health".

The World Health Organisation says by 2025, 80 percent of people will suffer from a mental health condition in their lifetime. In the last year, 579 Kiwis committed suicide - the highest number ever recorded.

If you're having a crap time, Hunt's here to help. He says publicity around depression lacks inspiration.

"It's like: 'Oh, this person has killed themselves or this person is suffering.' I would like more stories telling people: 'I was suicidal, I was in a horrible place, and now I've done these things that helped me get better.'

"It might be Jimi Hunt, or it might be someone at the local rugby club openly telling their story to the other guys. [Someone] is going to come up afterwards and go: "F**k bro, me too. Like, me too. What did you do? What do I do now'?"

He reckons we need 10,000 more Jimi Hunts, 10,000 more Mike Kings, 10,000 more John Kirwans.

"Everyone can relate to someone who is willing to help."

His own journey into depression was a slow decline throughout his 20s. Despite having a privileged upbringing (he went to a private school), he lived a lifestyle of self-deprivation.
He had a terrible diet. Never lived up to his own expectations. Was a "loser" in his own head.

At his worst, he was too scared to answer emails or use the phone. He felt angry. He'd have a shower and cry until the water ran cold. One day he stood outside his office for 15 minutes, incapable of making a simple decision about what to eat for lunch.

At the end, he was suicidal. He ruined his business, marriage, friendships.

"I was at the bottom of the bottom."

One of the first things he read was that in order to get better, he should get fit and get a goal.

"Because I'm lazy I decided I was going to have a goal to get fit."

He could've joined the gym, but instead he decided to paddle down the Waikato River on a lilo. Again, he's not your run-of-the-mill guy.

"It was a terrible idea. Stupid idea."

He put up a Facebook status announcing his plans and "it started blowing up".

"It [ended up] with a doco, I wrote a best-selling book about it, it had 23,500 [people] follow it on a Facebook event page. I got 1500 emails from strangers. At the end, I was like: 'Holy s**t'."

His trek down the river spawned his Live More Awesome charity, which he formed with a friend.

He went on to build the World's Biggest Water Slide on a farm, as a one-off fundraiser. It was such a crowd pleaser. He then designed and had built a reusable 600m inflatable slide - that's twice as high as Mauao. The waterslide gimmick earned Hunt nine minutes on The Today Show in the United States and space in international papers.

The way to change a stigma is to have as many conversations about it as possible. He likens it to: "Aids in the 80s".

"It took charity concerts, lots of celebrities ... then suddenly the world started going: 'Oh, okay'. The only way we can change the mental health stigma is coming out with really big things that start conversations."

Suicide survivors don't get patted on the back like cancer survivors.

"We hear all of the great 'I beat cancer stories' ... I will get letters from people saying the most beautiful things about how I saved their life and at the end: 'please don't publish this or tell anyone about it'. That's what's sad. We're looking for people brave enough to tell their stories in order to give hope and inspiration to others."

In May he launched a free programme called The Basic Reset that takes some of the principles of his second book, A Guide to Live More Awesome. The book, which looks at: "I'll now admit that I'm f****d, what do I do?", spawned The Basic Reset. It puts participants into a 66-day programme to change habits and lifestyle. It has an online community to encourage and keep one another accountable.

"I liken it to the gym," Hunt says. "I've gone to the gym every day for the last five years in my mind and I have got my mind to such strong place."

That surely doesn't mean he's untouchable from depression?

"No, well, actually it does. I disagree. This is a hard word to write in your paper but my end goal is to become unf**kwithable. So that nothing can f**k with me. I believe I'm getting so strong. I am so strong. It doesn't mean I don't have down days. That's life. You have your ups and downs but it's trying to make those lows just tiny dips, whereas they used to be long troughs."

His charity and books offer "gentle" inspiration, shaped by literature he's read, his own experiences, and thoughts from his own "spiritual mentor", a woman named Sally.

His day job is corporate speaking around mental health. He's become quite good at it. His next two jobs are speaking to employees at Simpson Grierson's New Zealand offices, and medical students at the University of Melbourne.

He's flying overseas on June 27 to travel through India and Mexico, returning to Tauranga on December 8 to the "tiny house on wheels" he and wife, Libby Grace, are building.

Both Hunt and Grace, a project manager, can work from anywhere in the world and are embracing the opportunity to do so. "We live very cheaply."

They've both been married before and don't wear wedding rings.

"Neither of us believe in rings so we got tied together with ribbon."

He did a lot of stupid things when he was young.

"I lived a life of what I call 'chasing happy'."

He struggles when I ask him how his friends would describe him.

"People have recently started calling me soft and gentle, which is the opposite of what I used to be."

Was that his way of putting up a mask?

"No, that's just who I was. I wasn't nice. I wasn't happy all the time. I was never a bad person but I was very abrupt. I could be mean ... cutting little remarks. It was a reflection of my state of mental health.

"So while my friends might not say it now, my hope is that in 10 years the one word they'd use is love."

In his own words, depression is the best thing that ever happened to him.

"My main driver now is to alleviate the suffering of others. That's what I actually truly give a s**t about. "If I have the skills, the time, the ability to be able to alleviate that, then I would be a horrible human if I didn't do it."

His advice: "You've got to keep loving them. You've got to keep helping them."