As I struggled with cancer and the cruelty of the cure, overwhelmed in the dark of those long nights by feelings of despair, futility and hopelessness, I was given a lifeline.
It was extended by rugby legend, mentor and fellow cancer patient Jock Hobbs.
The message was simple: change the things you can.
His advice changed how I live my life. It became my guiding star and inspiration but today that mantra takes on a fresh urgency for me to help save the future of our children so they too have the tools to thrive mentally, physically and socially and live healthy lives.
Covid is not the only pandemic sweeping and destabilising the world, leaving a destructive wake.
Our children are battling a storm of increasing mental health conditions from anxiety to depression, aggression to suicide, and support, treatment, even acknowledgement that there is a problem, is hopelessly inadequate.
The World Economic Forum recognises that this is a major issue and needs investment attention. "Right now, mental health conditions constitute 14 per cent of young people's disease burden and estimated economic losses of US$387 billion ($621.6b) per year in young people's human potential. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death of young people worldwide. It does not have to be this way," the forum reports and we should listen.
Investing in young people's mental health is one of the smartest investments there is. But, as the statistics show, it's not an investment the world has been willing to make.
In New Zealand, report after report shrills over our shamefully high rate of youth suicides and deteriorating mental health, driven by a complex set of factors like poverty, stress, childhood trauma, socioeconomic deprivation, and a lack of access to appropriate healthcare services.
Over the past two years, 18 per cent of all people accessing mental health services were under the age of 20, up from 12 per cent in 2016, and only 65 per cent of young people were seen within the first three weeks of their referral, while 87 per cent were seen within eight weeks.
While the Labour Government has pumped almost $2b into mental health, mental health support services – including hospital specialists, non-governmental organisations and social workers – are not connected, leading to a "terrible" experience for young people.
This cannot perpetuate. We have to change the things we can and focus resources and expertise on prevention and teaching lifelong skills to lead our children to live happier, healthier tomorrows.
The chamber was a driving force behind a trailblazing mental health and wellbeing online self-directed support platform for stressed business leaders, firststeps.nz.
Now our mission is to find a long-term solution to equip our kids, our future nation-builders, with the resilience and coping tools to enable them to live life to their fullest potential.
We've identified MindUP. The Goldie Hawn Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation founded this strategy to help children, aged 3-14, develop the knowledge and tools they need to manage stress, regulate emotions and face the challenges of the 21st century with optimism, resilience and compassion.
It isn't just a programme, it is a way of life that embraces children, teachers, parents and caregivers across communities. It shows how a little mental fitness can go a long way to building a happier, healthier, more balanced life at home, school and work, and feel better about yourself and the world.
Based on neuroscience, social-emotional learning, positive psychology and mindful awareness, MindUP was founded and championed by actress and mental health advocate Goldie Hawn after 9/11 shook the world.
"It seemed the world had changed in an instant. My heart went out to our youth, who were already showing signs of silent distress with symptoms of anxiety, depression, aggression and even child suicide," she says. "It was unimaginable that our little ones were suffering mental disturbances and being robbed of their joyful childhoods.
"I had a call to action to create a programme that would help kids learn how to self-regulate their emotions, become more resilient and learn about how their brain works to give them a road map out of despair and into a more positive mindset."
I too hear that call to action.
Today some seven million children have been taught MindUP with more and more schools around the world teaching the curriculum which follows a series of lessons that work together to build social skills, executive function and social and emotional competence.
The programme uses virtual training sessions that can be conducted through a train the trainer or online within the school community including parents, caregivers and student peers.
Children learn how their brain works and use brain breaks as a means to manage stress, act with empathy and build resilience to cope with challenges.
It works, it's fun, it can flex to our unique culture, values and needs, and it brings into our schools a skill just as important, if not more so than reading, writing and maths - social and intellectual intelligence, and analytical, investigative and digital capabilities.
I want to see the programme introduced here, first by way of a trial to assess its impact and value to the New Zealand situation and school curriculum.
We propose trialling it in 20 schools, ideally around New Zealand and under the guidance of the Goldie Hawn Foundation and Education Ministry to ensure it fits our context, requirements, and budget, and to test its efficacy and its benefit to providing children with lifelong skills for happiness.
Foundation research has shown students who received the evidence-based and CASEL SELect designated MindUP programme have had significant improvements in attention, stress levels, kindness, pro-social behaviours, academic achievement and their ability to self-regulate and allow themselves to be happier and more optimistic.
We can teach happiness and give our children the tools to develop the mental fitness necessary to thrive throughout their lives.
Let's change the things we can. We have the power, the influence and the means to save a generation. It starts with us.
- Michael Barnett is the chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber.