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

Television celebrity and suicide campaigner Mike King is adding his voice to growing calls for New Zealand to Break the Silence on suicide.

This month the New Zealand Herald has launched a special series on youth suicide to raise awareness of how and why we lead the developed world in teen suicide and hold the second worst rate in youth suicide (25 and under).

Investigation: 'The S Word' - Why schools can't talk about suicide
Break the Silence: Q&A on Herald special series
Investigation: The untold story of teen suicide in the North


As part of this series, we are providing a platform for experts, family members, youth and health professionals to weigh in on the issue in their own words.

King has been a crusader in raising awareness on youth suicide across New Zealand since an unprecedented cluster of teen suicides in Northland in 2012. He has spoken to students in dozens of schools about this issue and last month he Controversially stepped down from the Government's suicide prevention panel, claiming its draft plan to prevent suicide was "deeply flawed" and self-serving.

Mike King. Photo / Mike Scott.
Mike King. Photo / Mike Scott.

Today, King shares his thoughts on New Zealand's youth suicide rate. In his own words:

"New Zealanders love to lead the world at things, we love nothing more than punching above our weight. But one of the ways we lead the world is a national shame.

"This year Unicef again announced that New Zealand had the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world. The public outcry was swift: "What's the government doing? What are mental health services doing? What are the parents doing? What is everybody else doing?"

"New Zealand has become a country where we expect others to fix everything while the rest of us sit around in judgment and make excuses. Poverty, the housing crisis, colonisation and the growing gap between rich and poor were all listed as reasons why young people are dying by their own hand.

"Now while I'm sure academics can make a strong case for this, and all of that may even be true, no suicidal kid I've ever spoken to has ever mentioned housing, colonisation, and the growing gap between rich and poor as reasons for wanting to end their lives.

"Self-esteem is a huge issue for young people and is often the first step on the road to suicidal thinking. Young people with self-esteem issues - who deep down think they are 'bad' - are battling demons that no one can see because they battle them alone, often behind a mask of happiness.


"For them sharing their struggles with others is not an option. Instead they suffer in silence, bottling things up and battling their inner critic on their own.

"Research tells us that 40 per cent of kids will have a suicidal thought before they leave school. Either a fleeting one-off thought, or a recurring thought that grinds them down on a daily basis.

Mike King. Photo / Mike Scott.
Mike King. Photo / Mike Scott.

"This may come as a shock to some parents, but having one-off thoughts - including those around mortality - are a normal part of being a human being.

"However, the statistic we should all be concerned about is that 80 per cent of kids who have recurring thoughts of suicide never ask for help, from anyone, ever.

"For some it is because they don't know who to ask, or they believe they can fix it themselves. For others it's embarrassment, fear of looking stupid or hurting people they love. But for the overwhelming majority it's the fear of judgment. In a world that worships perfection they are worried what others will think, say or do if they disclose their true feelings.

"And it doesn't help when our health and education system discourages any type of open discussion around suicidal thinking for fear of contagion. Can you imagine how traumatic that must be for a young person? I've just diagnosed myself with an incurable disease but if I open up and talk to any of my friends about it they might catch it and die.

"There are three reasons kids give me for wanting to end their lives:
1. I am hurting! 'I am in so much pain and I just want it to stop. Everybody tells me that with time things will get better but everyday I wake up and it's worse. I just need it to stop!'
2. I am causing hurt! 'I feel like I've become a burden to everybody and everyone would be better off without me.'
3. I want to cause hurt! 'You hurt me, so now I'm going to hurt you.'

"The common theme in these reasons is feeling hurt and it is important we remember that when we hear someone is having suicidal thoughts. It's even more important when we hear someone is having suicidal thoughts time and time AGAIN.

"These kids are not drama queens, attention-seekers, cowards, or any of the other judgmental labels we put on teens in crisis. They are young people who are hurting and they deserve our love and attention.

"So before we all start yelling: What is the government doing? What are the DHBs doing? What are the kids' parents doing? What are the teachers doing? I would like everyone to pause and ask yourself this question: What am I doing?

"If 40 per cent of our kids have a suicidal thought before they leave school one would expect that every single one of us has either been approached by a young person or at the very least, approached by our own kids to discuss a friend who is having suicidal thoughts.

"Sadly, for most it has never happened. My question is why? What is stopping young people from opening up and sharing their troubles with our generation?

"Until we figure that out nothing is going to change. And New Zealand will continue to be world champions at teen suicide."

• Support Mike King's Key To Life charitable trust by donating here.


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:

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.