Long-time mental health advocate Mike King has returned his NZ Order of Merit medal to the Cabinet Office after a silent march from Te Papa to Parliament.
It's a sorry situation for the 2019 New Zealander of the year after a dozen years trying to tackle our woeful youth suicide rates.
King has pointed out the forced stigmatisation of young people who put their hand up for help. "Currently the only way young New Zealanders can get free counselling is by going to a doctor and being diagnosed 'mentally ill'. Once they have been through that soul-destroying experience, they are then placed on waiting lists where they can be for up to a year."
The Gumboot Friday fund established by King's Key to Life Charitable Trust has now provided 15,000 "free" counselling sessions for two years. Young people can access the online service themselves and pick a counsellor in their area, and the fund then pays the bill. The fund estimates up to 40 per cent of the kids who used it were under the age of 10.
It's estimated the fund has provided more than 15,000 counselling sessions. At an average cost of $124 per session, the charity has arranged for in excess of $1.8m worth of support for young people.
Yet, the fund's supporters point out that not one dollar has been contributed by the Government. "When we went to see the former director general of Mental Health last September, we were told in no uncertain terms that Gumboot Friday did not fit any funding they had available," King says.
Could King's bluntness be the problem? Broadcasting colleague Hamish Coleman-Ross asks, "Has 12 years of calling to account the management of the mental health system by the Ministry of Health offended those in power so greatly that in retaliation a viable solution is ignored?"
It's not difficult to work out who King may have upset. He has labelled everyone in the system from the top down as "morons" and "out of touch". "They sit down there and they talk to their friends who have written papers… and they ignore the people who utilise these services."
There's no doubting King's passion, and he has become increasingly forthright about the solutions he believes are being ignored. And the "success" of his charity may have left him less inclined to collaborate with agencies he feels have contributed more to the problem than ameliorated it.
However, his passion has put him in the lounge rooms of grieving parents; in the presence of self-harm; in a world of pain. After 12 years, who wouldn't be impatient and tiring of niceties and platitudes?
It is clear the Government understands there are pressing issues - $1.9 billion of mental health funding was announced three years ago. Health Minister Andrew Little was reported as saying that he knows there is frustration, but officials are moving as fast as they can with the capacity they have.
Is Mike King right? We know he's not wrong to try. New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the world.
Where to get help:
• 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
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.