A 24-hour safe place for youngsters with mental health struggles may not have prevented the death of 16-year-old Virgil, but his mum, Kristan Lopes, says the possibility that it might have is enough for her.
"I can't tell you how I feel. I'm numb and I'm sad and ultimately I'm responsible, because with responsibility and accountability then we can make positive changes."
Kristan lost her son almost two months ago to suspected suicide.
She was "mumma bear" to many of the town's young people, as was evidenced by the many selfies taken by local youngsters in her backyard.
Kristan has reached out to a national suicide prevention course, Lifekeepers Le Va, that was available online and free for anyone to do and is working on ways to support young people.
A one-day Le Va LifeKeeper's workshop will be hosted in Whangamata on May 20. Kristan recently completed a Lifekeepers course and said it was extremely worthwhile.
LifeKeepers is the national suicide prevention training programme, created especially for New Zealand communities.
She said the support of Whangamata Community Services Trust had also been "wonderful".
"For [Virgil] I will see that our community reaches together and reaches high for our youth."
She said her loss had led her to the realisation that nothing was more important than finding time to listen.
"Time and love is what it's all about. Let's get that chain going."
Her longer term goal was to achieve a safe meeting place where young people felt welcomed and supported.
I will see that our community reaches together and reaches high for our youth
She asked the Whangamata Community Board if TCDC could consider gifting a small piece of council land so the community can build a 24-hour facility to support its rangatahi, without the need for funding.
"Te Wahi Rangimarie is the name the kids came up with," she told the board. "It means peaceful place."
The land was necessary for a facility to be built, a facility she hoped would be manned 24-7 by volunteers with life experience, trained in suicide prevention and first aid, and would have a bunkroom, a kitchen and a lounge where people could connect with others in compassion and confidence.
There was no need for funding from the council, she told mayor Sandra Goudie, who was present at the meeting. Already some members of the community had offered support for the initiative.
"Our community has risen up to support our family in an unprecedented manner. I hope the council looks to see what they can help us with."
From builders to plumbers, artists and filmmakers, local people had already offered their services free of charge to get the facility built alongside Whangamata's young people.
"They want to do it with the kids — to build it from the ground up with them, for free.
"That's really important for me as a mother because no price can be put on my son's life.
"And if we build this with the kids for the kids, then they have a chance to express and find a peaceful place for them so that hopefully we can alleviate some of their tension, and help them find the right path and learn and evolve."
Riki Nia Nia, executive director Māori, equity and health improvement with the Waikato DHB, said on-the-ground community services and social agencies have been responsive to the needs of the community and are working together to ensure that support is available in Whangamata.
"We acknowledge there is concern in the Whangamata community and the DHB has been working closely with a number of the community/health services and social agencies since 2019.
"We are deeply sympathetic to anyone affected by suicide and encourage whānau and others to connect with support services where help can be provided."
The Whangamata response included a number of social agencies including Whangamata Community Services Trust, NZ Police, Ministry of Education, the local primary care services, the area school, youth support workers, Waikato DHB Mental Health and Addictions services in collaboration with Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki, Waikato DHB's suicide prevention and postvention staff and CASA community postvention response service.
"The community services have provided activities aimed at enhancing wellbeing in the community, which include sporting activities for rangatahi/young people, and in the pipeline, actor Rob Mokaraka will be coming to Whangamata with his show Shot Bro, about his life and how he helps others to heal."
Other training programmes available include MH101.
"The DHB services have valued having good relationships with the local services and appreciate the level of support that has been provided to individual people, families and whānau and the community as a whole."
Riki said much of the suicide prevention work in the Waikato is about enabling local action as the DHB believed communities know what is best for them.
"We offer support in a variety of forms including, but not restricted to, specialist services."
- A planned visit this week to Opoutere by Dr Tom Mulholland has had to be postponed due to Covid-19 level 3 lockdown.
Where to get help:
Whangamata Community Services Trust, 505 Port Rd, Whangamata 3620, Phone 07 865 7065
Whangamata Medical Centre, 07-865 8032
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906
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
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.