New Zealanders will light up the darkness on 17 mountaintops next month as a message of hope for families struggling to cope with suicides by loved ones.
The "Lights for Lives" events, organised by Papakura pastor Joseph Fa'afiu, will start at 5.00am on Saturday September 3 to remember the approximately 500 people who take their own lives in New Zealand each year.
"It's an alarming figure," Fa'afiu said. "Those are the known suicides given by the coroners, and you can only imagine how many people have done self-harm that is not reported."
The events, timed for just before sunrise to show that there is light even in the darkest places, have grown out of a series of "hope walks" held over recent months in South Auckland, Mission Bay, Wellington and Dunedin.
"We brought people together just to be more aware that there are other people just like them who have lost people to suicide," Fa'afiu said.
"Also in those gatherings we have found that there is no stigma, there is no shame, about talking. It's become a very open forum. People have been overwhelmed by the sense of, 'I'm not alone, there are people like me, and I don't have to be afraid to talk about how we feel.'"
He said people contemplating suicide felt they were "in a dark place".
"So one person emailed us and said why don't we do something that is symbolic? So we said, why don't we do an early morning walk up the top of mountains?"
The idea has spread via Facebook, and so far groups have sprung up to organise events at Mt Victoria and North Head (Devonport), Mt Eden, One Tree Hill and Mt Wellington (Auckland), Stockade Hill (Howick), Mangere Mountain and Totara Park (South Auckland), Mt William Walkway (Bombay Hills), Mt Maunganui (Tauranga), Penrose Hill (Paeroa), Durie Hill (Whanganui), Anzac Park (Palmerston North), Whitireia (Titahi Bay), Mt Victoria (Wellington), Barnicoat Hill (Nelson) and on the Port Hills (Christchurch).
Fa'afiu has asked that each group brings torches or cellphones, but not flammable lanterns that might set off fires if people stumble in the darkness. Beyond that, he says each group can decide what to do.
"If it's a fitness group or a community group, they can probably do a programme after it, or they can do a karakia, or they can just get together and just have a moment, and have breakfast together after that."
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said the events were "a really positive sign that people have energy and the will to try and do something".
"People need to be equipped with the skills to talk about suicide and support people in a really constructive way," he said.
Psychiatrist Dr David Codyre of the Key to Life Trust said talking about suicide at supportive events like Lights for Life was far better than not talking about it.
"Not talking about suicide is not part of the solution. The silence only increases the alienation of those individuals at risk," he said.
"Anything that can reach out with a message of hope and of being together with this, rather than alone, is useful."
He said the most useful thing people could do for anyone who was contemplating suicide was to listen without judging.
"The first thing is listening, being supportive, and not doing the whole 'harden up' message. The first thing is, 'Are you okay?'" he said.
"The second part of it is to know where to go to seek help on behalf of someone if you are concerned about them - being aware of how to access the 0800 helplines that are available, and how to access local mental health crisis services.
"And sometimes the most important thing that anyone can do is just to stay with the person at risk. So often what happened, when you look back at what happened around completed suicide, particularly with young people, is it's very clear that if the person could have been supported through that night, they would probably still be alive today."
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• 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
• Samaritans 0800 726 666
• If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.