Warning: This article is about youth suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
As part of our Break the Silence series on youth suicide, we are publishing a number of first-person pieces from experts. Today, Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson offers hope to young people and explains how everyone can help them. In his own words:
I could have been a suicide statistic. Yes, it's a pretty grim way to look at it because I'm much more than a number; I'm a loving father to two beautiful children, and a successful leader of an NGO. But it's true because a long time ago I attempted suicide.
Like hundreds of thousands of other New Zealanders who have attempted suicide, I got help and found a way through. I was lucky to get the right care, and incredible support from my family and friends. I'm proud to say that I now truly live well with bipolar disorder.
If you've lost hope, I want you to know that recovery is possible and a future is waiting for you that's filled with hope and potential. I know that you probably don't want to die. I know you want your pain to end or you can't see another way out. Even if it seems impossible right now, you can find a way through and go on to lead a fulfilling life.
Make no mistake, there's lots of work to be done to offer people, especially youth, a future that's coloured by hope and opportunity. Just like you, I am angered and frustrated by our shocking youth suicide statistics. The government and the mental health system need to improve but so do we as communities and individuals.
We each need to start looking at ourselves as individuals with the power to support our young people. You can start by talking to young people about the issues they're facing and working with them to find solutions. Don't back away when the issues seem too large to start.
As a community, we need to be committed to addressing things like poverty, racism, homophobia, transphobia and family violence because these things are driving poor mental health and placing our young people at risk of suicide.
Find out what you need to do to build and sustain your own positive mental health. I need to be aware of my triggers and be mindful to do things that keep me well. I play the guitar, jog regularly and spend time in the outdoors.
Addressing youth suicide needs all of us. It's a complicated issue and it can feel overwhelming and insurmountable. Maybe you don't see a place for you to make a difference, but here are three things you can do.
Keep an eye out, then act
If a young person is thinking about killing themselves, they might try to let someone know without saying so directly.
If they're talking about death, expressing feelings of hopelessness, reading or writing about suicide online, withdrawing from the people and things they love or losing interest in life, it doesn't always mean they're suicidal but they probably need some support.
Tell them what you've noticed and ask what's going on for them. Really listen, without judgment, to their answers.
If they have a plan to take their life they need urgent help so call the mental health crisis team or take them straight to the ED. If they're not in crisis, keep talking to them. Find out what kind of support they'd like and do your best to help them get it.
Take the load off someone else
We know young people really struggle when they feel like they don't belong or fit in. Loneliness is incredibly hard to deal with. If you notice young people sitting alone, being left out or not really connecting with their peers or whanau, make an extra effort to connect with them.
Invite them to join you at lunchtime, take an interest in their hobbies or do something new together. These are small things that can make a big difference.
Ask for help
I know it's hard, but reaching out and talking about how you feel or what you're thinking with a trusted friend or whanau member really can make a difference. It's not a sign of weakness, it's the bravest thing you can do. Go to your GP or head straight to your local ED. Call a helpline. Don't ever give up or believe that you aren't worthy of help. You are.
• Support the Mental Health Foundation by texting "Break the Silence" to 2446 to make an automatic $3 donation.
WHERE TO GET 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. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.