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


It's a grey and white wristband with three words running across it - I AM HOPE.

Despite its simplicity, the band could be a lifeline for teens struggling with depression.

Former stand-up comedian Mike King has handed out more than 10,000 of the bands to New Zealand schoolkids this year.

Advertisement

The band signals to anyone in need that the wearer will help them. It is not a fashion statement, but King says it makes a statement.

It is this:

I AM HOPE
I will not judge
I will not shame
I will not rant
I will not blame
I will not gossip
Or react
I AM HOPE
I've got your back.

The words were penned by King and Ezekiel Raui - a teen who knows what can happen when hope is lost.

Raui is a member of King's Key to Life - a charitable trust challenging the way New Zealand addresses mental health and suicide.

The teen was a student in Northland in 2012 when an unprecedented 19 young lives were lost to suicide.

Ezekiel Raui is the creator of a suicide prevention pilot programme called Tu Kotahi to be rolled out in four New Zealand schools next year. Photo / Mike Scott.
Ezekiel Raui is the creator of a suicide prevention pilot programme called Tu Kotahi to be rolled out in four New Zealand schools next year. Photo / Mike Scott.

King said the I Am Hope mantra speaks volumes.

"Teens know that anyone wearing one of the bands will listen and help that person without judging them, without running off and telling others.

Advertisement

"They don't have to fix that person but they can get them help."

New Zealand has the second higest suicide rate among those aged 25 and under in the developed world. Our teen rate is the highest.

Around 133 teens are lost each year to suicide. One of those who died last year was a student at Papamoa College in the Bay of Plenty.

Principal Steve Lindsay invited King to speak at the school as part of a multi-level approach to avoiding another suicide.

The Year 13 boy who took his life in the third term was the son of a staff member - making the death all the more painful for the school community.

"In this case we felt it at a student level and the adult level as well. The family is central to our school, a great family and very much part of our community."

The school informed all parents and caregivers of the death and asked them to speak to their children.

Additional counsellors were brought in through the Ministry of Education and teachers spoke as openly as they could with grieving students.

"We didn't use the word suicide. When the authorities are involved there are guidelines," Lindsay said.

In the months after the death the school provided support and guidance for students, teachers and parents.

"There were students who were shellshocked and didn't know what to do," Lindsay said.

"With a traumatic experience like this they were looking to others to see what was appropriate, what they should do."

READ MORE

New Zealand's self-harm epidemic

The full Break The Silence series can be read here

Investigation: The untold story teen suicide in the North

The school provided opportunities for students to have time out, kick a ball, go outside and reflect or talk to a counsellor whenever they wanted.

A memorial was set up in the library where students could contemplate.

An 8-metre sheet of art paper was rolled out on the library floor and colourful markers scattered so students could write a poem, share a memory or pen a prayer for their friend.

"People knew they could go there and have a cry, have a word and share a memory. We had people there on-hand for support," Lindsay said.

"At the end we opened the library to family and they brought friends and read all of the messages. It is part of their process as well," Lindsay said.

Lindsay said the school was still healing from the boy's death and invited Mike King to speak to add another layer to the support process.

King's talk was one way of getting conversations rolling about mental health - and it has worked.

Mike King talks to a hall of students at Morrinsville College about mental health and youth suicide. Photo / Mike Scott.
Mike King talks to a hall of students at Morrinsville College about mental health and youth suicide. Photo / Mike Scott.

Deputy principal Belinda Develter said visits to the school counsellors increased dramatically after King's visit in May.

"Students have been opening up to their teachers - students we didn't realise had any problems," Develter said.

The talk also opened up conversations between teachers and parents and prompted the school to send information home about the confronting Netflix suicide drama 13 Reasons Why.

"We followed up Mike's talk with a message to parents about the Netflix series and we gave them tools to start conversations with their children around that," Develter said.

"We had 120 come to listen to Mike at the parent evening so it was good timing - we don't want it to be a one-off event, we want it to be the start."

Develter said parents and school staff were "buzzing" after King's talks and wanted to continue the openness about mental health struggles.

"He had a debrief with all of the deans and key pastoral people and it was decided we want to build on his message.

"We want to send the message to kids that they need to talk when they have these thoughts. Mike tried to break the stigma down and had all of the kids engaged."

The Herald sat in on King's talk at Papamoa College as he opened up about his own mental health struggles, alcoholism and drug dependency.

Teens too young to have seen King perform as a stand-up quickly warmed to him and some talked about their own struggles.

Others recognised for the first time that they were suffering and needed help.

At the conclusion dozens lined up for a I am Hope band to slip on their wrist. All were given King's cellphone number in case they needed to talk.

Four teens from Papamoa College called or texted King after the visit to talk. He returned every one.

Principal Lindsay said King's talk and the I Am Hope bands were just one part of ongoing support for students.

"Some might benefit from speaking with a counsellor but others might seek out a peer wearing one of the wristbands," Lindsay said.

"It might be that they just spot one and remember the message behind it."

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
1737 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.