Warning: This article is about youth suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

In the early months of 2016, six people aged 25 and under killed themselves in the small Far North town of Kaitaia.

Fewer than 5000 people live there and locals said almost everyone in the community was connected to at least one of those who died.

Break The Silence: Q&A on Herald special series


The suicide contagion instilled fear across the Northland region and reopened wounds that had not yet healed - many of those who worked in the health and education sectors were pulled back to 2012, when an unprecedented youth suicide cluster had rippled across the North.

The Far North town of Kaitaia suffered a youth suicide cluster in 2016. Photo by Mike Scott.
The Far North town of Kaitaia suffered a youth suicide cluster in 2016. Photo by Mike Scott.

Media descended on the small township last year and headlines such as 'What is wrong with Kaitaia?' were splashed across national news sites. The close-knit community, tired of negative publicity and wary of outside journalists, pushed back in defiance.

Teenager Nina Griffiths, who lost two friends in the 2016 cluster, invited TV personality and mental health campaigner Mike King up to rally the community.

Hundreds of people came to King's talk and more than 400 people joined a Facebook group to prevent teen suicide in Kaitaia.

The hashtag #ILoveKaitaia went viral with hundreds of locals posting messages of love for their community.

"It was really positive to see our community standing up and saying 'we do care'." Griffiths told the New Zealand Herald last year.

Nina Griffiths, 19. Photo supplied.
Nina Griffiths, 19. Photo supplied.

"A lot of us find it hard to see the light in all of this negativity. We definitely are trying to make the most out of what we have up here."

The Herald is running a special series on youth suicide in the hopes of bringing the issue out of the shadows. Break the Silence will analyse why New Zealand has the second-worst youth suicide rate (those aged 25 and under) in the developed world and the worst teen suicide rate (15-19). It features first-person pieces from individuals who have lost loved ones to suicide, academics, psychologists and experts.


• Break The Silence: See the full series here

Mariah Herbert, 20, grew up in Kaitaia and is fed up with people "magnifying" the bad things about her town. "I know what my hometown is and it's not what everybody sees."

Herbert lost her sister to suicide in 2008, a friend to suicide in the 2016 Kaitaia cluster and has attempted suicide twice herself. She is passionate about her township and says youth suicide is not just a Kaitaia problem or a Northland problem; it's a national crisis.

Here, she shares her thoughts on why so many young New Zealanders feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.


Mariah Herbert, 20. Photo by Mike Scott.
Mariah Herbert, 20. Photo by Mike Scott.

"Being young can be hard.

"Beyond the fact that we find ourselves in positions where we feel low because of personal issues like family, friendships, relationships, financial problems and low self-esteem, the one thing that is even worse is the feeling like you're different to the rest of the world because of how you feel inside.

"Feeling like you're alone, feeling trapped and like you can't talk to anyone because you may get frowned upon. Feeling like everyone has a magnifying glass on you and just feeling judged.

"For a long time we've been taught that we aren't allowed to be sad, that we have more than the generations before us so there's apparently no need for us to feel down.

"Let's admit it, adults look at us teens and young adults as if we're useless if we don't have jobs or aren't studying some sort of career. Like we're spoilt little brats that don't know how to make anything of ourselves. If we don't finish school we're not going to get anywhere in life.

"Because of these false assumptions and stereotyping, it has ruined the minds of our lost teens who are desperately looking to find their way to a brighter future.

"Don't get me wrong, to the ones who have gone through teen days with A-grades, studied and have degrees and qualifications, awesome jobs and bright lives, I respect and love that. But they too are normal people and go through the same struggles, but for different reasons.

"There isn't just one type of person that feels suicidal or depressed, no, no, no, everyone in some way can reach this point.

"Personally, I have experienced this feeling all through my life for a lot of different reasons. We go through things that change our look on life, but we pull through.

"More and more things keep happening and you start to wonder why, why do things keep happening to me? But you keep pushing past it.

"Then problem after problem attacks and you start to feel like you are the problem, then suddenly that's when the overflow of everything you've held in just bursts. You start to question your worth in life and what you've done to be stuck in this. And all you want to do is talk to someone, anyone, who will understand you and who you can trust.

"But you can't. Why? Because it isn't 'NORMAL' . We have to 'TOUGHEN UP'. We 'HAVE IT BETTER THAN OTHERS'. We 'DON'T KNOW WHAT REAL STRUGGLES ARE' . The world has taught us this and is still teaching us this. That is the core of this problem. That is why our suicide rate is so damn high.

"Instead of accepting the basic solution of normalising depression and making it okay to talk about our problems, we tend to try and blame certain things, certain people, just so it keeps our mouths shut and takes the attention away from the actual problem.

"I just wish we could normalise talking about our problems. Through everything I've experienced, the attempts and self-harm, the only true thing that has gotten me through each day is knowing that I am loved and understood by the people I've trusted to open up to.

"It was a huge release, like a massive chip had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt free.

"We need to stop sweeping suicide under the rug because it doesn't help anything at all.

"Even now when I get into dark places, I open up confidently and get everything off my chest without being judged.

"No matter who you are or what you do, you should never have to feel like you need to wear a mask to cover anything you're holding in. That was one of my biggest mistakes that nearly cost me my life and would've ruined those who I love and care about.

"You are who you are and you can be whatever it is you want to be," is what I tell myself every day. Think of life as the road to YOUR successes and dreams, every problem and hard time is just a speed bump that you will get over.

"You can make something of yourself, even if you have nothing. Because I did, and I'm still pushing for even more."

• A youth-led movement called Raid was set up in the aftermath of the 2012 suicide cluster. Its ideology is to "raid people's minds from the stigma behind suicide". You can make a donation by contating them via Facebook.

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 police immediately on 111.


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)