By Mike Dinsdale
When Mahurangi man Forrest Axford saw the country's record number of suicide deaths last year he determined 'I don't want us to lose anymore'.
Axford, aged 22, had lost several people he knew to suicide so decided to ride the length of the country to raise awareness of the blight that last year took the lives of 654 New Zealanders, including 39 in Northland.
Since 2007, 342 have been found to have committed suicide in Northland and Axford said more needs to be done to raise awareness.
The impacts of a suicide were far more wide ranging than many people thought.
''In 2019, we lost 654 Kiwis to suicide, which was the highest number recorded since the records began. This awful reality, along with the experiences and losses both myself and my loved ones have shared, has inspired me to cycle from the top of the North Island all the way down to the bottom of the South Island,'' he said.
''I will be completing this ride, named 'Ride to Remember', as part of Tour Aotearoa next month, to fundraise for suicide prevention and bereavement initiatives to be run by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand and the Healing Through Arts trust.''
He will be setting off from Cape Reinga on February 26 and each leg of the ride will be dedicated to someone in Axford's own circle lost to suicide. The Northland legs is in memory of Mike Axford, his uncle, who was lost to suicide before Forrest Axford was born.
''My uncle died by suicide before I was born, handing down a legacy of grief that changed who I was to become. Since then, I have lost many others, and watched those I love lose people too. I will be riding to remember them, in the hope that we don't have to remember others for the same reason.
''Although I have been incredibly touched by the support that has already been received, I want this project to connect in with as many Kiwis as possible. We all know someone who knows someone who has been lost to suicide … and unfortunately, for many of us, the degree of proximity is a much closer. Whether it be a friend, a parent, a sibling, or a colleague, so many of us have lost people who felt they couldn't be found.
''I don't want us to lose anymore.''
He said Covid-19 might be the pandemic in the spotlight, but suicide is a pandemic that always stands silent in the shadows.
''We have one of the highest suicide rates in the world, largely due to a 'she'll be right' mentality that has people suffer in silence and then eventually die in it,'' Axford said.
"Just because we don't talk about something, that doesn't make it go away… and yet, that seems to be the way of the world here in New Zealand. It's time to change that."
To donate and help Axford reach his goal, visit givealittle.co.nz/fundraiser/ride-to-remember. You can also follow his journey on Facebook (facebook.com/ridetoremember2021) and Instagram (@Ride2Remember).
Where to go for help: If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider.
If you or someone else is in danger call police immediately on 111.
To talk to someone else:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
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