Campaigner Mike King says mental health has become an election issue, and a recent U-turn from Health Minister Jonathan Coleman proves it.

King made the comments while speaking at the Careerforce Workforce Development Conference in Wellington.

The conference aims to tackle the challenges and opportunities facing New Zealand's social and community workforces, with workshops today devoted to tackling mental health, and suicide prevention.

King told the Herald there was no doubt politicians had seen the thorny subject was now an election issue.


He pointed to Coleman backtracking on introducing a national suicide reduction target as proof.

Coleman announced he had put a suicide reduction target back on the table during an interview for the Herald's Break the Silence series.

"Jonathan Coleman doesn't backtrack on anything," King said.

"People are saying it's an election issue, and political parties need to change the way they're thinking about this and need to change what they're doing about this.

"It's vital. I mean if you want my vote we need to see something in there to support the mental health of all New Zealanders."

King said now that the issue was getting public attention, it was important not to over-complicate it.

"The big mistake experts make is trying to make something so complicated that people think it's completely overwhelming and don't even endeavour to deal with it because it's just too hard.

"If we can just look and change our attitude to people struggling with depression, with anxiety, it doesn't have to be this big mental health thing.


"We've got to stop throwing negatives at the problem.

"[Former Labour leader] Andrew Little just found this out.

"If you keep throwing negatives at the problem, people just turn off. We've got to start throwing positives at the solution."

King said around 40 per cent of New Zealand youth would have a suicidal thought while they were at school, but felt they couldn't talk about it because of the shame and stigma surrounding the subject.

"Here's the problem, as a society we've put labels on thoughts.

"Good thoughts, and bad thoughts. That's ridiculous.

"That's like putting labels on the weather. Sunny day, good day, rainy day, bad day.

"Not if you're a duck."

King said politicians who wanted to do something about the issue needed to get out into the community more, and not just in election time.

He said advisers were important, but hearing from people first hand about their difficulties getting mental health help was more important.

"Stop contracting out responsibility and actually get out there.

"It's going to sound weird, but approach the problem with love."


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)