Warning: This article is about youth suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
Education Minister Nikki Kaye wants to send a message to all those in the education sector fearing New Zealand's youth suicide crisis: "I'm listening."
"Absolutely I will be listening to the concerns raised by schools and what it is we might be able to do to provide better access to [suicide prevention] services for schools," she said.
Kaye, who only took over the education portfolio a few weeks ago, conceded services for schools have been "fragmented in the past". She said preventing youth suicide is on the top of her priority list.
Today, the New Zealand Herald unveils an investigation into suicide in schools as part of its special Break the Silence series on youth suicide. The Herald canvassed the more than 500 secondary schools across New Zealand in an effort to understand how they are handling the issue and where they may need more support.
More than 40 per cent of the 235 schools that responded said they did not feel supported enough in this area.
We found deep-seated frustrations with the way New Zealand legislation and official policies gag schools from speaking openly about the issue of suicide with students. We also found that education reforms in the mid-90s removed select funding for counsellors in schools. Many schools are calling for that to be reintroduced, saying it would be the "single most useful thing" the Government could do.
When the Herald outlined the responses to Kaye, she said: "Obviously that's really concerning and we've just got to continue to do better to improve the system.
"This is not about everyone not having the desire to make change. This is about accepting that over successive governments we haven't managed to design things in a way that's made a significant difference, so we've just got to keep changing things up."
Kaye - New Zealand's youngest female Education Minister - said it's time for a "national conversation" on how New Zealand can teach and build emotional resilience in youth and equip children to deal with the ups and downs of life.
In Budget 2017 the Government announced $224 million for mental health and Kaye said she was working alongside her Cabinet colleagues, including Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, to decide how that funding would be rolled out.
Coleman's office has rejected repeated requests for an interview, on one occasion saying he said all he had to say in a speech in May.
Kaye acknowledged the difficulties some schools may face with current policies that advise schools to avoid the conversation about suicide, especially given that young people are talking about suicide among one another and on social media.
"I'm very open as a minister to look at what the current guidelines are and look at the law and talk to some of the specialists in terms of grief, but also our science advisers. I mean, from my perspective, if we can improve the system then we need to," she said.
While Kaye conceded that counselling services in schools have been "fragmented in the past", she said some students might not want to see a counsellor on school grounds, some might need to see a psychologist and some may prefer to talk to a social worker.
"We need to do what those children and young people need, rather than how we've arranged ourselves in the past," she said.
"We are keen to do more and we've put a significant investment in the Budget and we are working through what that looks like. We just have to keep putting the foot on the accelerator.
"You know I've [only] been the Education Minister for eight weeks, but I do feel a sense of urgency about continuing to make change."
• 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.